It Really Sucks to Be Old in Texas

In a national report released yesterday by the AARP, findings rank each state in terms of long term care for the elderly. The report considers such factors as nursing home affordability and accessibility, family support, and quality of life and care. The upshot?

It sucks to get old in Texas.

The state places 30th in general long-term care and services for the elderly, people with disabilities, and family caregivers. But perhaps most telling are the specific rankings, which rank Texas ranks next to last in quality of care and life in nursing homes.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the low rankings. For one, Texas has the highest turnover rate for nursing staff. It's not exactly clear why exactly there is such a shortage of qualified staff, but a recently released report from the Sunset Advisory Commission detailed the lack of qualified personnel:

DSHS' [Department of State Health Services] turnover rates were highest for psychiatric nursing assistants and licensed vocational nurses, both at 33 percent in the same year. The 83rd Legislature appropriated funds for a targeted salary increase for psychiatric nursing assistants at state mental health hospitals and reallocated the licensed vocational nurse job classification series to higher salary groups, but the impact of those changes remains to be seen.

In Texas, more long-term nursing home residents receive antipsychotic medication than in any other state. And Texas is second to last in new nursing home stays that last more than 100 days. With such a shortage of nurses, staff may be overburdened and easily taxed by stressful situations.

Melissa Gale, spokeswoman for the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), did not discuss what, specifically, the department intends to do to address the abysmal ranking. She did say in an email that the department regularly conducted impromptu inspections of nursing home facilities and was actively working with legislators and law enforcers to ensure a higher standard of living in nursing home facilities. "If we find nursing facilities are violating regulations and not meeting their obligations to residents, we hold them accountable to the extent allowed by state and/or federal law," she wrote.

The AARP report comes just in time: The Sunset Advisory Commission will convene for a public hearing next week concerning the efforts made by the Department of Aging and Disability Services to regulate nursing homes. But maybe start buttering up to your out-of-state progeny, just in case.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Emily Mathis