Keep a watchful eye on nursing homes

The Reagan administration should seriously reconsider plans now underway to ease federal regulations pertaining to the operation of nursing homes. The regulations currently in effect establish safety, health, and privacy guidelines for thousands of nursing homes throughout the US that participate in the medicare and medicaid programs. Some 1.3 million persons reside in these homes.

But equally as important, the federal regulations serve as the model guidelines for nursing homes in general, including homes not participating in federal programs but licensed under state and local laws. To scrap the federal guidelines would mean that in many instances weaker state regulations would become the model standards. Nor should it be ignored that many nursing home operators have clout in legislatures.

The rationale for the proposed federal ''reform'' - the details of which are expected to be announced sometime in early 1982 - is to cut back on expensive and unnecessary regulation and paperwork. There can be no quarrel with that objective. On the other hand, experience from state after state the past several years has more than borne out evidence that far too many nursing homes in the US , usually those that cater to poorer persons, have operated under conditions that are physically unsafe and at times blatantly tyrannical. That, of course, is not true for reputable homes. But there have been too many instances of abuse to deny that many homes are or have been badly mismanaged.

The federal rules now in place governing nursing homes are modest. They require that such homes must be safe and sanitary; that persons not be employed having communicable diseases; and that staff personnel must respect the privacy and dignity of residents. Regulations now require homes to have written policies regarding the rights of residents, including the right to publicize grievances.

Lawmakers and the public should study the administration's new proposals with the greatest care when they are released. There must be no weakening of federal standards.

A just and compassionate society must not neglect to protect its citizens who for one reason or another entrust their care to others.

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