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Precarious Hospitalization for Alzheimer’s Patients

A new study revealed the fact that 20 percent of the nursing home patients with Medicare, who suffered from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease were sent to hospitals for dubious reasons in their last months of life.

These people had to endure intensive care and tube feeding, which only made their suffering worse. The nursing homes consider that the hospital care is very important in case the patients suffer from pneumonia, or other serious infections, but the researchers of the study believe that the reason why many of the elders are sent to the hospital is money. Medicare pays three times the normal daily rate for nursing homes if they take patients which have been previously hospitalized.

Money, the main factor?

Dr. Joan Teno, who is a health policy professor and a palliative care physician and at Brown University believes that money, is one of the most important reasons why many of the elders are sent to the hospital. There are numerous elders who are sent to the hospital very often, and who make frequent visits from the nursing home to the hospital. Dr. Teno questions the way in which the health care system works, believing that it encourages such immoral behaviors.

She was a co-author of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School and Harvard University were also involves in the study. More than 475,000 patients have been included in the study, and 19 percent of them were sent to the hospital for dubious reasons. The study did not conclusively reveal the fact that the reason why they were sent to the hospital was money. However, the researchers saw large variations from state to state, and because of that, they consider money to be a decisive factor.

State differences

In Louisiana, more than 37 percent of the patients were sent to the hospitals, while in Alaska, only 2 percent of the patients had to go to the hospital. In Texas, 26 percent of the patients were sent quite often to the hospital for dehydration, pneumonia, and urinary infections. The researchers stated that these conditions do not require hospitalization, and that they can be treated quite easily at the nursing homes. The researchers used Medicare records from 2000 to 2007, in order to see how many patients have been transferred from their nursing homes to the hospital.

They wanted to see how many of them were transferred in the last three days of their life, how often they were transferred in their last three months of life, and how many were moved to a different nursing home. Medicare pays around $175 per day for each patient, the amount of money depending on the state. However, regardless of the state, they pay three times more in case a patient spent three or more days in the hospital and then returned to the nursing home.

The researchers discovered that the Hispanics, the black patients, and the ones without legal documents were sent to the hospital most often. The study is very important, because more than 1.5 million people live in nursing homes.

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