Nursing Home Reform Legislation Offers Opportunity for Better Care

Nursing Home Federal Legislation Offers Chance for Real Improvement

Lawmakers realize we have a pervasive nursing home abuse problem in America. Nursing home COVID deaths are nearing 200,000. More glaringly, a bipartisan Senate investigation revealed that poor resident care is overwhelming clustered around less than 5% of the nation’s facilities.

A disproportionate amount of neglect cases occur in nursing homes listed under the Special Focus Facility (SFF) program. The SFF program includes the worst performing facilities that “substantially fail” to meet the basic care standards required by the federal government.

Think of SFF nursing homes as the repeat offenders who have a pattern of neglecting and harming vulnerable residents. Until recently, an SFF distinction was shameful, but without much punishment or rehabilitation opportunities.

However, we have an opportunity to fix that.

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) are proposing the Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2021 [S.782]. The bill would expand the list of monitored facilities, increase educational resources for underperforming facilities, and establish an independent Advisory Council to inform the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on how best to rank nursing home performance and foster quality improvements.

The bill would improve and expand the SFF program to include facilities currently qualifying as “candidates” for SFF, but not members. These are poorly performing facilities that exist on the periphery of the SFF list, but not on it. Under the proposed legislation, the SFF list would expand and require that no fewer than 3.5% of the worst rated facilities are under increased scrutiny.

The Government Accountability Office and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would also get involved in auditing and investigating low rated nursing homes, with civil penalties ranging from monetary fines to license revocation. Civil penalties (money) taken from the violating facilities would be re-invested to improve the SFF nursing home via increased training and education.

Further, the SFF program would be rebranded as the “Low-Rated Facility Program”, and the nursing home rating information would be easily accessible to the public. This can better inform elderly Americans on which facilities enjoy high rankings, and which facilities are frequent violators of residents’ rights.

The program is not entirely punitive though. The underlying purpose of the proposed nursing home rating system is to publicly evaluate facilities, and to offer a path towards improvement. Government regulators would work hand in glove with poorly ranked facilities in an effort to improve compliance with state and federal regulations.

As a nursing home negligence litigator, I am floored by the lack of quality control we use in our long-term care system. The lifeblood of these nursing homes is taxpayer dollars in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. It is time that the government insisted on humane, quality patient care in exchange for the hundreds of millions of federal dollars it pays private, for-profit nursing home corporations.

The proposed legislation is supported by just about every senior citizen non-profit in the US.

Let’s demand more accountability from nursing homes. Write you Senator and Member of Congress today and ask them to support the Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2021.

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