Friday, October 14, 2011

What Is a Nursing Home?

I received a question about the definition of a Nursing Home. Over the years, I have visited many family members in such facilities. When I worked as a laboratory medical technician, I worked in the acute care areas of hospitals, in their care units and clinics, and in their adjacent nursing facilities. Thus, I have many, many memories of such places, and it turns out, the definition of a Nursing Home is a legal question suitable for this Blog.

In California, a 'nursing home' is not legally defined, but taking the term and words 'nursing home' generically, 'nursing' infers nursing care is provided while 'home' infers the facility provides long-term care. This seems reasonable in that California defines certain patient care services as within the practice of nursing. (Cal. Business & Professions Code Sec. 2725 et. seq.).

Under California law, there are many different types of facilities that could fit the generic term above. In reading these definitions, the rational for defining facilities seems to be based on (1) the different types of services provided, and (2) the facilities' staffing availabilities.

For example, a "general acute care hospital" provides medical, nursing, surgical, anesthesia, laboratory, radiology, pharmacy, and dietary services. (Cal. Health & Safety Code Sec. 1250(a). A Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) "means a health facility that provides skilled nursing care and supportive care to patients whose primary need is for availability of skilled nursing care on an extended basis." (Cal. Health & Safety Code Sec. 1250(c)). An "intermediate care facility", on the other hand, provides "skilled nursing supervision" but not "continuous skilled nursing care". (Cal. Health & Safety Code Sec. 1250(d)). So for most people, a nursing home is likely a Skilled Nursing Facility or at least an Intermediate Care Facility. These should also fit the definition of a "nursing facility" under the Medicare and Medicaid programs. (Cal. Health & Safety Code Sec. 1250(k)).

California also differentiates based on patient and resident needs, as by whether the patient or resident is ambulatory (able to walk) and whether the person's infirmity is physical or mental, temporary (rehabilitative) or degrading, chemically related, developmentally related or generally age related or some other type.

Another distinction is by the vocation of the person providing the services. A doctor is present at all times at an acute care center. (Cal. Health & Safety Code Sec. 1250(a)). The definition of Skilled Nursing Facility, however, omits "medical staff". The SNFs I've seen though, were adjacent to or close to a hospital so medical staff was at least close by.

The legal definitions may also have developed to provide for nursing supervision (an "intermediate care facility") rather than nursing care (SNF). When I worked as a laboratory medical technician, a doctor made periodic visits while a seasoned Registered Nurse (RN) was present at all times in the facility and supervised the care given by less experienced RNs and the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) (a.k.a. Licensed Vocational Nurse outside of California).

Later in my career, I observed that the person making the periodic visits wasn't the doctor, but rather the seasoned RN, with a less experienced RN supervising the care given by the CNAs.

Now, with the exception of an acute care facility (a.k.a. hospital), it seems RNs are gone from most nursing facilities, and the only CNA is the pill-passer. The other care providers may have vocational training but it seems they are not certified or equivalently licensed.

My other observation is that many facilities have silently dropped the term "Nursing" from the business name because (seemingly to me) no one in administration, on staff or visiting has any significant nursing care training. Instead, they have "care managers". I'm told "care managers" have at least 'minimal care training but in my ten years of dealing with them, it seems more 'minimal' than 'care'.

As such, this article has gone full-circle. Based on law and my observations, a place with the word 'nursing' in its name likely provides nursing care and has (I hope) an RN on hand at some time during the day with CNAs providing nursing care and pill passing. If 'nursing' is not in the name, there is likely no RN, no CNA or otherwise, in the building - except perhaps for a patient or resident.