In late July I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations 9th Working Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Aging. The purpose of this work group is to strengthen the protection of the human rights of older persons. A focus for the ninth session was long-term care and palliative care.

While many excellent statements were made during the work group, the following held great meaning: “the moment an issue pulls at your heart – that issue is now a human rights issue.”

Every member of the Western New York community should have a heavy heart after hearing about the events that occurred at Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Every person, regardless of race, income and level of disability, has basic human rights to live with dignity, be free from harm, and to receive quality care and treatment regardless whether they live in the community or a nursing home. As detailed in our Emerald South white paper and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s recent news conference: Many human rights violations have occurred at that facility.

This is a community issue. In New York, there is no distinction between “rehabilitation facility” and “nursing home.” Do not think just because you are going to a rehabilitation facility you are not in a nursing home and not at risk of harm when that facility ownership allows for substandard care. Violations of our human rights can happen regardless whether an individual is in a nursing home for rehabilitation or long-term care.”

Oversight and regulation of nursing homes fall to the state (New York Department of Health) and federal (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) governments. It is up to those entities to survey nursing homes to ensure these facilities are in compliance with basic regulatory requirements.

However, as highlighted by recent events, these entities need to do more to ensure every person has access to quality care and to ensure basic human rights are upheld. We are concerned that as for-profit ownership groups continue to purchase nursing homes, basic human rights to receive quality care, be free from harm, and to live with dignity will be diminished to the benefit of profits.

It is our responsibility as a community to require every nursing home provides quality care and that our basic human rights are upheld. If you or someone you know has concerns about care in a nursing home, speak up.

Contact the state Department of Health and the attorney general to file complaints; contact your local elected officials to voice concerns and propose changes; contact your local long-term care ombudsman program for advocacy.

By: Lindsay Heckler

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