A Brief History of Kansans for Improvement of Nursing Homes
In 1966, Anna “Petey” Cerf of Lawrence Kansas, had been reading regularly to a nursing home patient. The woman was the last survivor of nine children, blind and with both feet amputated. One day when Petey went to read to her, the woman was ill and calling out, “I can’t breathe.” An RN, the daughter of the administrator, came into the room and said, “Shut up. You’re always yelling.” The next day, Mrs. Cerf saw the patient’s name in the obituaries and was appalled that the nurse had ignored the woman. That experience led to the formation of Kansans for Improvement of Nursing Homes.
A group of women from Lawrence and Topeka Kansas (Jessie Branson, Petey Cerf, Leslie Ketzel, Harriet Nehring, Katie Pyle, and Bryona Wiley) formed a steering committee and began visiting and phoning concerned citizens throughout the state. On October 11, 1975, they brought together approximately 150 people for an Organizational Conference in Wichita, and KINH was launched.
The early organizers were initially regarded with mistrust and even hostility by many state officials and legislators, who had grown accustomed to getting their information from the nursing home industry, and not from consumers. Petey Cerf commented to The National Observer (November 1, 1975): “When we went to the state legislature to plead for reform, there were just a few of us; the industry was out in force, and we were squashed….Now we’ve decided to build a state-wide organization, go out and get the votes, and then march right back. When we do, perhaps we’ll find them in a more receptive mood.”
Between April and September 1976, The KINH Committee on Monitoring visited 26 nursing homes around the state to observe existing conditions, to determine quality of care, and to report findings to responsible state officials and to the legislature. Some of the problems they found included under-staffing, underpaid and untrained aides, inappropriate placement of the non-geriatric handicapped, lack of rehabilitation programs or equipment, lack of physician participation, and lack of competent administration. Committee chair Jessie Branson remembers, “Sometimes I would feel wet sheets, and you could feel some patients’ skin and know they were dehydrated. Some had feces under their fingernails and on their hands.”
Kansans for Improvement of Nursing Homes was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization on November 4, 1976. The first directors were: Irene Malone, Lawrence; Clara L. Kleweno, Hays; Anna Reed, Abilene; Carl Ossmann, Topeka; Jessie Branson, Lawrence; Essalie Cross, Kansas City; Leatha Woodley, Wichita; Katie Pyle, Topeka; Harriet Nehring, Lawrence; Anna Cerf, Lawrence; Cathy Butts, Manhattan; and Marge Parker, Topeka.
On January 26, 1977, KINH held “A Consumer Conference: Action to Improve Nursing Homes,” in Topeka. Over 350 people attended. A petition asking Governor Robert Bennett to form a special committee to investigate nursing homes was issued. When it was eventually turned in to the Governor, it carried 1,400 signatures.
In June 1977 Governor Bennett, prompted by KINH’s advocacy, began a series of surprise visits to nursing homes around the state. He found good care in some, and serious problems in others. As a result of his visits and KINH’s urging, Governor Bennett appointed an Advisory Committee on Nursing Homes. Petey Cerf and Jessie Branson served on the 8-member committee, along with representatives from the nursing home industry and government agencies.
At the group’s first meeting on July 29, 1977, Governor Bennett stated: “Those in the nursing home industry have a responsibility to do better than simply operate profitable body warehouses for the aged.” The committee would study three areas: receiverships for problem homes; fines for homes that consistently violated regulations; and full financial disclosures of nursing home operations.
The 1978 session of the Kansas Legislature passed two significant pieces of nursing home legislation: a law authorizing civil penalties against nursing home owners for uncorrected violations affecting the safety, nutrition or sanitation of residents; and a law outlining the process of receivership when a home’s license had been revoked. The bill also included post-employment training for aides after 90 days of employment. KINH had sought a requirement for aides to be trained prior to providing hands-on care.
The organization has evolved over the years. Organizers, members, and staff have changed. State government has been traded back and forth between political majorities, and state agency staff have come and gone. Long-term care has expanded beyond nursing home care to include in-home care, assisted living, adult day care and respite care. Throughout all these changes KINH’s mission has remained the same: to advocate the fundamental rights of all residents to be treated with dignity and respect and to receive decent care.