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Reviewing existing regulations for assisted living communities, expanding state oversight of memory care services and increasing oversight for temporary staff and temporary staffing agencies are among the recommendations in a new report from a Delaware task force.

The group also is calling for more funding and resources to support the state’s long-term care and memory care communities.

The state legislature’s Long-Term Care and Memory Care Task Force was created following failed legislation introduced last year to implement staffing ratios in assisted living. The panel was charged with investigating the state’s existing policies on long-term care facilities and to develop recommendations to guide future policies to create a “robust and well-regulated long-term care system” to meet the needs of residents. 

Task force representatives included members of the legislature, the state Department of Health and Social Services, advocacy groups, management and staff members of long-term care facilities, and community members.

Cheryl Heiks, executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association, said that the panel’s 14 meetings between August 2022 and May 2023 “allowed for members to educate, enlighten and develop empathy for the various roles the individuals represented.”

“I feel that at the end of the experience, each task force member had greater understanding of long-term care and the challenges and opportunities for improvement,” Heiks told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Bottom line, each member had the same goal: to improve care for the residents; retain, grow and enhance the staff; and look for ways to make the systems of communication and care stronger for all the parties.”

LeadingAge New Jersey & Delaware also was represented on the task force. President and CEO James W. McCracken told McKnight’s Senior Living that the association recognizes the commitment of task force members to compile data, seek feedback and issue the report, and that the association looks forward to working with lawmakers and regulators “as we collectively seek ways to improve the quality of life of residents who live in long-term care communities.”

In a letter presenting the task forces’ final report to their colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly, task force co-chairs Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos (D-Elsmere) and Rep. Kendra Johnson (D-Bear) said that the task force emphasized the interconnected challenges facing long-term care providers in Delaware, including workforce shortages, limited regulatory oversight capacity and legislative gaps.

“These factors may contribute to poor outcomes for residents and may be particularly deleterious for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias,” they wrote. 

Their recommendations called for increased funding and Medicaid reimbursement, expanded oversight and accountability, improved services, and better staff recruitment, retention and training initiatives.

In addition, the panel called for regularly reviewing Medicaid reimbursement rates, increasing funding and resources for the state Division of Health Care Quality and the long-term care ombudsman’s office, and improving state oversight agency communication with residents and families to promote transparency, access to resources and a better understanding of laws and procedures.

The task force also expressed concern over the potential for overuse of psychotropic medications in memory care settings. To that end, the panel recommended that medication management policies be evaluated for memory care residents and that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services regulations on psychotropic medications be applied to memory care units in facilities outside of skilled nursing.

The recommendations also addressed transparency in long-term care facility marketing materials, resident and family orientation programs at communities, and communication between providers and families. The task force also suggested that a stakeholder group be formed and meet regularly to continue to engage the public on long-term care issues.

Lawmakers now are considering introducing bills to address the task force recommendations.