Anyone who thinks nursing home residents are helpless and unable to speak up for themselves never met Donna Parisi.
Her voice works fine. In fact, she's hoping it will be heard all the way in Washington, where federal officials are reviewing sweeping changes proposed for New Jersey's nursing home industry.
The former teacher, who uses a wheelchair, is leading the rebellion against the state's plan to further privatize its Medicaid program. She has spent hours trying to enlist local politicians and citizens to join her cause. She hands letters about the issue to any visitor she spots at Preakness Healthcare Center in Wayne, where she lives. She's managed to gather 11,000 electronic signatures on a MoveOn.org petition.
"I ask everybody who comes in here if they want to sign the petition," she said. "I'm not done fighting this even though it is going to take a miracle to stop it, mostly because nobody seems to be doing anything to try to stop it."
The state's plan — for which federal approval is expected soon — involves turning the long-term-care portion of the $5 billion Medicaid budget over to the four insurance companies that manage the rest of New Jersey's healthcare program for the poor. Proponents say this will curb rising Medicaid costs in nursing homes while providing more funding for services and equipment for people who want to remain in their homes.
But Parisi has serious concerns about letting private companies rather than state regulators set the reimbursement rates for such care. She is worried that for-profit companies will slash reimbursements, forcing nursing homes to cut staff and reduce services.
"This is going to alter how we live here and how we're cared for," Parisi said.
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Nursing Home Rebel Makes Herself Heard