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Nursing homes need more oversight, state lawmakers say

Patriot-News - 12/21/2018

Dec. 21--State regulators need to provide better oversight of Pennsylvania's nursing homes, two state lawmakers say.

Last month, PennLive published a special report examining the quality of nursing homes. PennLive found that a number of homes formerly owned by the Golden Living chain continue to be plagued by issues relating to quality of care. Advocates for seniors also said the state Department of Health needs to be taking tougher action against substandard homes. (Read the full special report: Still Failing The Frail.)

State Rep. Greg Rothman, a Cumberland County Republican, said PennLive's report underscored issues at nursing homes that need attention.

"We should expect the highest quality of care for the elderly, who are some of our most vulnerable citizens, and this report reveals that the state Health Department has failed our families and requires oversight reform to put service back at the center of the nursing home industry in Pennsylvania," Rothman said in a statement.

State Sen. Art Haywood, a Philadelphia Democrat, plans to speak to the state Department of Health to ask questions about its oversight of nursing homes. He said he was disturbed by the findings of PennLive's investigation.

"The care of nursing homes is important issue for me," Haywood said, adding, "It's a statement about who we are as a culture and as a nation."

Last February, Haywood held a hearing in his district to address concerns about nursing homes. Residents at the hearing complained about insufficient staffing at nursing homes and what they viewed as the health department's lack of stiff penalties to fix problems. Residents also said they didn't view the department as responsive to complaints about conditions.

After the hearing, Haywood said he had a productive talk about nursing home oversight with Dr. Rachel Levine, the state's health secretary. The senator said he was encouraged by the department's pledges to make improvements. But he said it's clear work remains to be done.

"Being committed to making improvements and getting it done is obviously not the same thing," Haywood said.

"This requires increased diligence by the department so we can get it right," he added.

Haywood said he may look to hold another hearing on nursing homes in the future.

Last month, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he would be conducting another audit examining the health department's oversight of nursing homes. He conducted a similar audit two years ago.

In the wake of PennLive's investigation, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey said they would be asking questions of state and federal officials regarding the oversight of nursing homes.

The health department has said it is committed to ensuring the safety of the 90,000 people who reside in Pennsylvania's nursing homes.

The department is in the process of revising its regulations regarding nursing homes and has said it plans to update the state's minimum staffing requirements. The department is in the final stages of developing a draft of its regulations, April Hutcheson, a department spokeswoman, said earlier this month.

PennLive examined homes that had previously been run by the Golden Living chain and found many are still racking up citations from state regulators. In 2015, the state Attorney General's office sued the company for chronic understaffing and failing to provide basic care. Golden Living later sold its licenses to its 36 homes in Pennsylvania to other companies.

The PennLive investigation found some homes have as many state citations now as they did under Golden Living's management, according to PennLive's analysis of state records. Some homes have even more citations, PennLive found.

Advocates for seniors say the health department needs to impose stiffer penalties on homes that offer substandard care. The new operators of Golden Living's homes largely eluded punishment from the health department, PennLive found. Of the 102 inspections that led to citations for those homes in 2017, the state only issued penalties in response to 10.

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(c)2018 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

Visit The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) at www.pennlive.com

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