Unless state lawmakers change course in the coming days, Hawaii will continue to lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to certain policies and resources provided to ensure the health and safety of residents living in long-term care facilities.

Rep. Della Au Belatti on Wednesday proposed adding new language to a bill that would mandate unannounced inspections for several types of care facilities. She wants to delay the start date to July 1, 2019, and in the meantime study how well the Department of Health is doing its job.

She’s the co-chair of a House-Senate panel negotiating the final details of the bill. Her counterpart, Sen. Roz Baker, said the amendment seemed reasonable. They deferred the bill until Thursday morning.

Rep Chair Della Au Bellati during joing senate house mtg. 25 april 2016.
Rep. Della Au Belatti on Tuesday proposed amending a bill to delay the start of mandatory unannounced inspections of long-term care facilities until 2019. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Unannounced inspections have become the national standard. Belatti and Baker both noted as much when they approved earlier versions of the bill.

But the pushback from the operators of long-term care facilities has been significant. They say a heads up from the department on when inspectors are coming for relicensing is necessary to get all the necessary paperwork in order and make sure everyone is home.

The announcement of the intention to water down the bill requiring unannounced inspections follows a conference committee decision Tuesday to not provide any additional positions to the state long-term care ombudsman, John McDermott.

He has explained to lawmakers for years that he needs help.

“Hawaii just has me for 12,340 residents in 1,702 facilities spread over six islands,” McDermott said last month.

The Institute on Medicine recommends that states have one full-time paid long-term care ombudsman for every 2,000 residents. McDermott said Hawaii is the only state with just one.

Gov. David Ige’s administration had requested three ombudsman specialist positions and $300,000 in funding for the long-term care ombudsman’s office. McDermott said that would at least provide one position for Maui, Kauai and Big Island, and then he could handle Oahu.

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