ANNAPOLIS – Most nursing homes and assisted living facilities say they already offer flu and pneumonia vaccines, but Delegate Marilyn Goldwater, D-Montgomery, wants to assure the elderly get their shots by introducing a law requiring facilities to ask residents and staff to be vaccinated.
“If they’re already doing it, they won’t oppose the law,” Goldwater said. “This way we make sure nursing homes and assisted living facilities are vaccinating and they can’t stop. That’s the advantage of having a law.”
The bill won’t impact Adventist HealthCare’s seven nursing facilities, two assisted living facilities, or two adult day cares, said Mary Sweeney, community relations coordinator. These facilities already ask residents to sign a form authorizing the vaccines. They also strongly recommend staff get them.
Vaccinating staff has cut absentee rates in other states, Goldwater said, and she’d like to see that happen in Maryland. When employees are offered vaccines at work, she said, they don’t have to take time off and are more likely to get them.
Genesis Eldercare also offers the shots to all nursing home residents and staff, said Rich Tangiers, office manager.
“Why wouldn’t we do it? It’s in our best interest,” Tangiers said. Health officials say everyone over age 65 should be vaccinated against pneumonia and influenza. Flu annually kills an average of 20,000 people in the United States, 90 percent of whom are 65 and over. The flu shot could prevent 80 percent of those deaths, the Department of Health and Human Services reported. Flu shots are covered by Medicare Part B.
Pneumonia kills more than 10,000 older Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Last year, 65 percent of the elderly population got flu shots and 45 percent received the pneumonia immunization, according to Health and Human Services. The pneumonia vaccine provides lifetime protection, but a flu shot is needed annually because the virus changes from year to year.
Several other health care bills are expected to be considered in the General Assembly session that begins in January. Delegate Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said he will reintroduce the health care liability bill introduced last session, which would make insurers financially responsible for problems resulting from its treatment decisions.
The federal Patient’s Bill of Rights Act of 1999 also would have given people the right to sue their health insurer for treatment decisions that harm a patient. It passed the House of Representatives but U.S. Senate lawmakers could not agree on the provision.
“We’re hoping that the mood has changed since Congress made some progress on this. We want to give patients more rights,” Zirkin said. “There will only be minor changes in the bill.”
Two other bills would impose more health insurance mandates. A bill filed by Delegate Mary Conroy, D-Prince George’s, would require insurers pay for special wigs to hide hair loss resulting from chemotherapy. And Delegate David Boschert, R-Anne Arundel, wants health insurers to pay for hearing aids.
Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, will introduce a bill changing time limits for children to file medical malpractice claims, giving them until age 19 to file. The law changed and anyone injured after July 1, 1987, had to file suit by age 14. Grosfeld said it is unreasonable to expect children under 14 to know their legal rights well enough to file a medical malpractice claim.
Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, said he will introduce a bill to update the licensing process for occupational therapists, which hasn’t been done for about 20 years.