In recent months, Missouri has faced significant scrutiny over its treatment of adults with mental health disabilities within long-term care facilities. On June 20th, a damning report by the Department of Justice revealed that the state had been unnecessarily institutionalizing these individuals in skilled nursing facilities. This practice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report further exposed Missouri’s overreliance on the guardianship system to force people into long-term care settings, often without adequate consideration for their mental health needs or preferences. Shockingly, many individuals were placed in these facilities despite lacking significant physical health issues and were subsequently deprived of essential mental health care.

This troubling revelation underscores the critical role of advocacy and oversight in Missouri’s long-term care sector. One organization at the forefront of this advocacy is VOYCE, which hosts the long-term care ombudsman program in St. Louis and North East Missouri. VOYCE plays a pivotal role in advocating for the rights and well-being of residents in long-term care settings, providing a vital link to residents who may otherwise be isolated or neglected.

Ombudsman Program Vetoed for Coming Year

However, despite its crucial role, VOYCE and the statewide ombudsman system recently faced a setback when Governor Parson line-item vetoed funding for the program on June 28th. This decision marked the second consecutive year funding for the State Ombudsman Program was denied. This funding would have significantly expanded the program’s capacity to monitor and support residents across the state. At a time when Missouri ranks last in the nation in care hours per day for residents and has one of the highest percentages in the nation of poor-quality facilities, the absence of robust oversight from programs like the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is deeply concerning.

Recent Closures Lead to a More Stressed System

The importance of organizations like VOYCE was starkly illustrated by the tragic closure of Northview Village in St. Louis and Levering Regional Health Center in Hannibal. These closures not only displaced vulnerable residents but also highlighted the precarious situation faced by individuals with mental health disabilities in Missouri’s long-term care system. Many of these residents, forced by the system to rely on facilities for housing and essential services, were scattered across the state due to a lack of appropriate care options nearby.

The closure of Northview Village, in particular, demonstrated the immediate need for advocacy and support. VOYCE ombudsmen were instrumental during this crisis, assisting residents in navigating the transition, advocating for their rights, and ensuring they received proper care amidst the upheaval. Similarly, the more recent closure of the Levering Regional Health Center by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid because of long-standing care issues underscored the broader systemic challenges in providing adequate and accessible care for individuals with mental health disabilities in Missouri.

Guardianship System Reforms Needed

The dispersion of residents following these closures also highlighted the shortcomings of Missouri’s guardianship system, which, because of severe understaffing and underfunding, often fails to consider the best interests and preferences of individuals under guardianship. VOYCE continues to advocate for reforms that prioritize community-based alternatives to institutionalization and uphold the dignity and autonomy of all residents.

In conclusion, the recent developments in Missouri’s long-term care sector underscore the urgent need for systemic reforms and enhanced advocacy. VOYCE’s role in advocating for residents, particularly those with mental health disabilities and under guardianship, remains crucial in addressing these challenges and promoting meaningful change. Moving forward, supporting and strengthening programs like the ombudsman program through adequate funding and resources is imperative to ensure that all residents receive dignified care and equitable treatment in their communities.


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    Donna Beck on July 8, 2024

    Grass Roots movements gain more than “catering to the Legislature”. One to one, in local communities, family and friends, neighbors and tennis/golf partners. We is Me turned upside down. Let’s find the “hidden gems” of people who have time and ability to do “grass roots” connectivity and Social Media — not the limited kind, the kind that can be accessed by anyone like Tik Tok, You Tube and LinkedIn. I’ll continue my work in my ways; they seem to be building in listening, learning and that will lead to responding.

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