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Nursing Homes Key Issue In Final Debate Of Governor's Race

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, seeking a
last-minute surge before next week's election, on Monday defended
his administration's work in monitoring nursing homes across the
state.
Nursing homes were unable to keep adequate staffing levels
during previous administrations, said Fletcher, who is also a
physician. That changed under the current administration, leading
to a substantial reduction in citations, Fletcher said Monday night
during a debate with his Democratic challenger, Steve Beshear.
A recent Lexington Herald-Leader report found that the number of
nursing homes cited for serious deficiencies dropped from about one
in four under former Gov. Paul Patton to about one in 10 under
Fletcher. Some patient advocates worried that the drop in citations
did not correspond to an increase in care.
"What we did is we got better care," Fletcher said of his
administration's performance. "And then we targeted the nursing
homes and we closed - I believe - three nursing homes recently."
Beshear countered that a drop in the number of nursing home
citations since Fletcher took office in 2003 was a matter of
prioritization.
"People in nursing homes, kids in foster care, are not a
priority for this administration, and it's very clear that they're
not," Beshear said.
The debate, aired live from the Kentucky Educational Television
headquarters in Lexington, is the final in a grueling series of
faceoffs spanning the past two months.
Monday night's face-off, however, could be the most critical of
the campaign, Northern Kentucky University political scientist
Michael Baranowski said.
"Fletcher is in a swing-for-the-fences situation," Baranowski
said. "It seems to me at this point, he may as well go all out,
because he has absolutely nothing to lose. It's 'Hail Mary' time.
This is his last chance."
Baranowski said Beshear needs to take an opposite tact, saying
as little as possible in the hour-long debate.
"He's protecting a big lead," Baranowski said of Beshear.
"The only thing that could cut into that would be for him to do
something colossally stupid."
The candidates differed on whether nursing homes should be
required to maintain a certain nurse-to-patient ration.
Fletcher said he did not think a requirement like that was
appropriate, while Beshear said that's something he would consider
if elected governor.
The Monday night debate marked the candidates' second meeting in
as many nights.
They were at Centre College in Danville on Sunday evening,
touting their plans for raising teacher salaries and making college
education more affordable for Kentucky students.
Fletcher also lashed out at Beshear, repeating an oft-made claim
that electing him would be a step toward legalizing casinos in
Kentucky.
Beshear favors a ballot referendum that would allow voters to
decide whether to change the constitution to allow casinos.
Expanding gambling at race tracks and in a handful of
communities along the state's borders, Beshear contends, would
generate $500 million in additional tax revenues that could be used
to improve the lives of Kentuckians.
However, before casinos could open, voters would have to give
their approval through a ballot referendum.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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