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Trump Administration to Roll Back Fines for Nursing Home Abuse

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The nursing home industry, which has long been awash in claims of health violations and neglect, may soon be freed from the kinds of penalties it has paid in the past. A new Trump administration policy will roll back fines against nursing homes cited for mistreatment or abuse.

The American Health Care Association and the nursing home industry are largely in favor of the move, having requested the change to Medicare’s penalty protocols in 2016. The Hill reports:

The American Health Care Association had argued that inspectors were too focused on finding wrongdoings at nursing homes instead of assisting the facilities.

“It is critical that we have relief,” Mark Parkinson, the group’s president, wrote in a letter to Donald Trump, then president-elect, in December 2016.

According to the [New York] Times, nearly 6,500 nursing homes have received at least one citation for a serious violation since 2013 and about two-thirds of those have been fined by Medicare.

Under the new rules, regulators are now discouraged from giving nursing homes fines, in some cases. Fines for some homes may also be decreased as a result of the new guidelines.

Some worry that the new policies could allow the mistreatment of nursing home patients to go unpunished, by discouraging regulators from levying fines. Under Obama-era policies, two-thirds of homes cited for severe violations were fined.

The New York Times reports that easing regulations that would previously have resulted in fines means nursing homes will now see reduced penalties, or none at all. In one example, the paper cites a nursing home that failed to properly monitor a patient’s wound, which led to her death. Under Obama-era policies, the nursing home was fined $282,954, but under the Trump administration’s guidelines, the same facility would be fined less than $21,000.

Jezebel reported Thursday that a retirement community for people who have worked in the film industry is being sued for attempting to cover up the sexual abuse of more than a dozen female patients.

Truthdig contributor Barbara Dunlap recently wrote about the hidden crisis of sexual abuse in nursing homes:

In addition to detecting sexual abuse of elders, another formidable challenge is proving that it has taken place. The crime is often committed in a victim’s room at night, with no witnesses. Many victims—especially those who suffer from dementia or have lost the ability to speak—can’t remember, describe or even understand what has happened to them.

Some long-term care facilities make it even harder to prove the crime, says Cole, the attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. They quickly clean up the scene of the crime so forensic evidence is destroyed, or fire the perpetrator, who goes on to work at another facility where the pattern of abuse can continue.

The Trump administration has a history of rolling back protections for patients in nursing homes. In August, reports surfaced that the administration was planning to replace a rule that makes it relatively easy for nursing home residents to sue for negligence or abuse.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that more than 75 percent of nursing homes were cited for ineffective infection control over a span of four years. While the citations were common, fines were not: Just one of the 75 nursing homes found to be in violation of infection control codes received a significant citation and fine.

In Florida, 14 nursing home deaths and 100 hospitalizations occurred after a nursing home there failed to evacuate residents after losing air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. As a result, in October 46 members of Congress called for current protections for patients in nursing homes to be upheld.

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services they said: “This is a time when we should be protecting our nation’s seniors, not rolling back their fundamental right to hold wrongdoers accountable for neglect and abuse.”

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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