Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) recently visited Fellowship Home at Brookside, Valdosta, GA, to sign a bill that will allow certified medication aides to administer liquid morphine to residents in assisted living communities who have been prescribed the drug by a licensed physician.

In my uncommon position as a state representative who also is the president and CEO of a senior living operator, I had sponsored HB 374.

In early 2018, the Georgia Department of Community Health had reviewed and revised its interpretation of laws relating to the administration of liquid morphine, and CMAs no longer were permitted to give the medication. This decision left most residents who were in extreme pain or who had symptoms of dyspnea without relief until a hospice nurse could travel to the assisted living community to administer medication. The reversal in May of the DCH’s 2018 decision marked an end to needless delays in treatment and grants Georgia’s seniors better access to quality healthcare at a lower cost.

Liquid morphine is known for its effectiveness for pain relief, anxiety management and the alleviation of labored breathing, but it must be given in a timely manner to provide maximum benefits. By the time a hospice nurse receives a call that a resident or patient needs the medication and travels to the assisted living community, a CMA already could have offered relief to the resident.

Before the revision, licensed nurses and family members were the only individuals allowed to administer liquid morphine to residents living in assisted living communities. How could it make sense for an untrained family member to be granted the ability to administer a powerful drug when a certified medication aide cannot? In short, it didn’t.

HB 374 came with provisions specifically designed to protect residents:

  • The volume of liquid morphine stored onsite is limited to 50 ml per patient.
  • A nurse will administer the first dose and will monitor the resident’s response and reaction.
  • CMAs will receive specialized training regarding liquid morphine’s risks, the appropriate dispensing and administration protocols, and potential reactions to the medication.
  • Any CMA or proxy caregiver administering doses of liquid morphine to residents will operate under the guidance of a hospice nurse.

These stipulations should offer peace of mind to those who may have concerns about CMAs dispensing the medication.

Alleviating needless suffering should be a priority throughout the healthcare industry, including senior living. HB 374 will aid in making residents’ final days in assisted living communities as comfortable and peaceful as possible. It will lower healthcare costs by eliminating the need for residents to move to skilled care settings just because a dose of liquid morphine is needed. It will relieve the family of the weight of having to administer a drug that they are not trained to give. It will provide peace of mind and the maximum level of comfort to Georgia’s assisted living residents during one of the most vulnerable times in life.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signs HB 374 into law at Fellowship Home at Brookside, Valdosta, GA. Behind him in the green shirt is state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R). The author (R) is wearing the blue jacket.