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Accountability

Published on July 30th, 2009

Here is a link to The Frederick News-Post which had a terrific op-ed by Katherine Heerbrandt about accountability and the nursing home industry.  The editorial is below:

Nursing homes are places where residents go about the business of wrapping up their lives or recuperating from illness, so it’s not surprising that many of us have an aversion to them. Perhaps we see a future we don’t want to contemplate.  But as baby boomers age, living out our golden years in a long-term care facility is a real possibility. The size of the disabled older population who will need assisted or nursing home care will grow by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2040, according to the Urban Institute.

Entrepreneurs are looking at long-term care facilities as good investments. But as private equity investors flood into the nursing home business, "it’s become harder and harder for families, regulators or prosecutors to identify the right individual or business entity to hold accountable for bad care," Janet Wells, public policy director of National Citizens’ for Nursing Care Reform, said in an interview.

"The Office of Inspector General says it has found as many as 17 limited liability companies in the ownership and operations of a single facility," Wells said. "Most of these companies are making profits from the business, but they can’t be held accountable by anyone for what happens to an individual resident."

This trend, she said, triggered a transparency bill this year and is part of the controversial health care reform legislation currently before Congress. A similar bill failed last year, and compromises were made. The bill currently before the House requires Nursing Home Compare (Medicare.gov/NHCompare/home/asp) to report the number of adjudicated criminal violations by facilities or crimes committed by their employees. States will also have to post survey reports online so consumers can read the inspectors’ findings.

It’s an uphill battle for advocacy groups. Nursing home lobbyists have much deeper pockets. "The nursing home industry is extremely powerful," Wells said. "And although it claims it can’t make a profit from operating nursing homes, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying."

Lobbying, it seems, is a recession-proof profession. In the past decade, nursing home lobbyists’ spending has risen from $25 million to $100 million, according to opensecrets.org, maintained by the Center for Responsible Politics.

Tyonja Bathgate became an unwilling advocate for nursing home residents’ rights when her husband, Colin, moved to a local long-term care facility two years ago, and she worked with Delegate Sue Hecht on a bill to allow cameras in nursing homes. That bill failed this year.

Based on her experiences, Bathgate supports any legislation that will make nursing home operators more accountable and their operations more transparent.

Even if you or a loved one is not in a nursing home, she said, you are still affected by this legislation.

"Where do you think Medicare/Medicaid comes from? Those are tax dollars and nursing homes shouldn’t be able to hide behind LLCs, or to spend millions on lobbyists. That’s ridiculous," she said.

She’s right. Why shouldn’t the facilities entrusted with caring for our nation’s chronically ill and elderly be held accountable for how they run their businesses?

For sample letters to your representatives and more information on the details of the nursing home transparency legislation, visit nccnhr.org.
 

Joe Pioletti
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