NURSING HOMES: Investigation Uncovers Safety Violations
"Widespread violations" of federal health and safety standards exist in many Texas, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California nursing homes, congressional investigators state in a report to be released today, the New York Times reports. Commissioned by congressional members, the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Government Reform "used federal data to get an overall picture of compliance in a state or region," examining state-performed inspection reports. From those reports, the investigators found "serious deficiencies" in 70% of Texas nursing homes, 40% of nursing homes on Long Island and in more than 50% of homes in Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Furthermore, they found "violations that caused potential harm to residents, or had the potential to cause death or serious injury," in 26% of the homes in Texas, 17% of Long Island homes, 18% of those in central New Jersey, 15% of homes in Chicago, 19% of homes in Los Angeles and 41% of those in the Bay Area. Examples of such violations included failure to protect patients from an abusive resident, failure to respond to patients using their call bells or shouting, and erroneous medical instructions stating "Do not resuscitate" for patients meant to receive CPR. The Times notes that the report did not name specific homes because "new management or other changes could lead to a sudden improvement or deterioration at a home." Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), who requested that his state be investigated, said, "A major reason for the substandard conditions in many Texas nursing homes is the shortage of staff, and that in turn results from the low level of reimbursements paid by the state under the Medicaid program." William Abrams, COO of the American Health Care Association, which represents 12,000 homes, added, "In many states, Medicaid does not pay enough for us to hire the staff and provide care in compliance with federal regulations, despite our best efforts."
George W. Bush spokesperson Dan Bartlett called the report "a politically motivated document" aimed at embarrassing the presidential candidate, stating, "Gov. Bush and the Texas Legislature have worked together to pass comprehensive nursing home reforms that improve the standards of care, stiffen penalties and hold homes accountable." But Rodriguez and the Democratic investigators contend that the study was not meant to "embarrass" Bush, but rather to "underline the need to increase Medicaid reimbursement, to step up enforcement and to publicize the results of inspections" (Pear, New York Times, 10/31).