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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 16, 2000
                             TO THE NATION

                            Washington Home
                            Washington, D.C.

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I'm joining you today from the Washington Home, the nursing home in our nation's capital that has been delivering quality care to older Americans for more than a hundred years now. The seniors here with me receive top-quality assistance from a dedicated and attentive staff.

Every one of the 1.6 million Americans living in nursing homes all across our nation deserve the same quality care. And as the baby boomers retire, the demand for quality care will continue to rise even higher. By the year 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 85 will double, making compassionate, quality nursing home care even more important.

But while the majority of nursing homes today provide excellent care, too many of our seniors and Americans with disabilities in homes, in too many of those homes, are not getting the proper attention they deserve. According to current research, the number one culprit is chronic understaffing. When there are too few caregivers for the number of patients, the quality of care goes down.

A recent study from the Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than half of America's nursing homes don't have the minimum staffing levels necessary to guarantee quality care. And too often the staff that is there isn't properly trained. Patients in these homes are more likely to lose too much weight, develop bed sores, fall into depression. More than 30 percent are dehydrated, malnourished, at much higher risk for illness and infection.

Older Americans who have worked hard all their lives, deserve respect, not neglect, and for more than seven years now, Vice President Gore and I have acted to improve the quality of care in our nation's nursing homes. In 1995, we put in place new regulations to crack down on abuse and neglect, stepping up on-site inspections of nursing homes.

That same year, when Congress tried to eliminate federal assurances of nursing home quality, I said, no. Then in 1998, I issued an executive order, requiring all states to increase investigations of nursing homes, and fine those that failed to provide the residents with adequate care.

Today I'm taking four new steps to improve nursing home conditions across America. First, working with Senator Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Senator Breaux, a Democrat from Louisiana, along with Representatives Waxman, Stark and Gephardt, I'm sending legislation to Congress next week that I believe can be enacted this year. It will create $1 billion in new grants to boost staffing levels in nursing homes that need it most, to improve recruitment and retention, and to give more training to caregivers, rewarding the best preforming nursing homes.

While working to improve nursing home care, we have to act swiftly to keep nursing homes safe. This legislation will impose immediate financial penalties on nursing homes that are endangering the safety of their residents, and then those funds will be used to improve patient care.

Second, I'm directing the Health Care Financing Administration to establish, within two years, minimum staffing requirements for all nursing homes participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. The Agency will also develop recommendations to ensure that nursing homes receive the necessary payments for high-quality care.

Third, we are taking new measures to educate caregivers at nursing homes. Just this week, we launched a new campaign in America's 17,000 nursing homes to identify residents who are at risk and prevent them becoming dehydrated or malnourished.

And, finally, to help families select the right nursing home, we'll require all facilities to post the number of health care personnel serving their patients.

Of all the obligations we owe to one another, our most sacred duty is to our parents. They kept us safe from harm when we were children, and we must do the same for them as they grow older. They shouldn't go another day without the care they deserve wherever they live, in whatever nursing home facility.

President Kennedy once said, "It is not enough for a great nation merely to have added new years to life -- our objective must be also to add new life to those years."

The steps we're taking today will help to bring new life to our nation's seniors by bringing a new level of quality to America's nursing homes.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:10 A.M. EDT