One thing the pandemic has made clear is that the Indiana General Assembly needs to take a serious look at the state’s long-term care system.

Nearly half of the Hoosiers who have died in the pandemic either lived or worked in a long-term care facility. Rodric Bray, the president pro tem of the Indiana Senate, called nursing homes “kind of ground zero for COVID-19.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean lawmakers will actually do anything.

“We’ve had some conversations about that,” Bray told CNHI Statehouse Reporter Whitney Downard, “but there’s no legislation right now.”

House Speaker Todd Huston offered a similar assessment. Lots of discussion, but no real action.

“I do not, frankly, remember a ton of bills that dealt specifically with that topic,” he said.

One piece of legislation lawmakers did manage to pass was Senate Bill 1, a measure designed to protect businesses such as nursing homes from “frivolous lawsuits” related to COVID-19.

Critics such as Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis expressed the fear that the new law would keep families from holding nursing homes accountable.

“It defies logic that elected officials would desert our duty to protect our most vulnerable constituents,” he said. “We should not watch narrow corporate interests supersede justice.”

Advocates had hoped for more in the way of real reform.

Lawmakers might argue the challenges facing Indiana nursing homes need deeper study, but the fact is many of these issues have been evident for some time.

Even before the pandemic reared its ugly head, the state was far behind in its routine inspections. A December 2019 audit found the state’s long-term care ombudsmen program severely understaffed.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has suggested that funding for these facilities should be tied to quality of care, a move that might help to address the fact that 92 of Indiana’s 534 nursing homes have the lowest possible rating from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Holcomb also suggested “removing barriers to care” so that Hoosiers can “choose where they age,” a change that would mean a dramatic shift in the way Indiana funds long-term care.

Indiana is clearly behind the curve on these issues. In terms of staffing and care, the Long-Term Care Community Coalition ranks the Indiana’s facilities 46th in the nation.

The state needs to beef up oversight. It needs to take steps to improve the quality of care many of these facilities provide, and it needs to do more to help families care for their loved ones at home.

It’s time that lawmakers stopped talking about these issues and took action to address them. Their constituents should insist on it.

The Herald Bulletin, Anderson

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