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Regulatory Oversight

Published on March 31st, 2020

Nursing homes were designed for high-needs residents and are heavily regulated by the federal government. Assisted living and other state-regulated homes were designed for healthier residents and are lightly regulated.  Vermont Public Radio and Seven Days investigated the lack of regulations for state-licensed facilities providing a home for vulnerable adults who may not need skilled care. In Vermont and elsewhere, investigations into these homes have revealed lax oversight, injuries and deaths.

A review of nearly six years of inspection reports revealed troubling patterns of inadequate care. At least five residents have died in accidents related to deficient care, and the majority of homes have been cited for severe infractions. One home’s owner told regulators that it was easier to accept a citation than to give staff the dozen hours of required annual training.

Homes that provide poor care are rarely fined by state regulators, who are acutely aware of their state’s need for long-term care beds. Vermont has one of the oldest populations in the nation, and people with dementia, such as Marilyn Kelly, can wait months for placement at a facility.

Vermont is not the only place where journalists have uncovered inadequate care and oversight at state-licensed long-term care facilities. The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionThe Oregonian and PBS and ProPublica have published similar findings, with databases designed to help consumers.

“It could have been any state,” said Lori Smetanka after learning about VPR and Seven Day‘s findings in Vermont. Smetanka is executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, an advocacy group.

Be on the lookout for unfriendly staff interactions, unpleasant smells and sounds of distress. Confirm the staffing numbers. And do research. Ask your state’s long-term care ombudsman about what kinds of complaints have come in about the facility; read the contract carefully; and get a hold of the facility’s state inspection reports.

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