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GAO Report Confirms that Nursing Home Problems Significantly Underrepoted

May 15, 2008

May 15, 2008

Serious Deficiencies in Nursing Homes Are Often Missed, Report Says

By ROBERT PEAR, New York Times

WASHINGTON ”” Nursing home inspectors routinely overlook or minimize problems that pose a serious, immediate threat to patients, Congressional investigators say in a new report.

In the report, to be issued on Thursday, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, say they have found widespread “understatement of deficiencies,” including malnutrition, severe bedsores, overuse of prescription medications and abuse of nursing home residents.

Nursing homes are typically inspected once a year by state employees working under contract with the federal government, which sets stringent standards. Federal officials try to validate the work of state inspectors by accompanying them or doing follow-up surveys within a few weeks.

The accountability office found that state employees had missed at least one serious deficiency in 15 percent of the inspections checked by federal officials. In nine states, inspectors missed serious problems in more than 25 percent of the surveys analyzed from 2002 to 2007.

The nine states most likely to miss serious deficiencies were Alabama, Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming, the report said.

More than 1.5 million people live in nursing homes. Nationwide, about one-fifth of the homes were cited for serious deficiencies last year.

“Poor quality of care ”” worsening pressure sores or untreated weight loss ”” in a small but unacceptably high number of nursing homes continues to harm residents or place them in immediate jeopardy, that is, at risk of death or serious injury,” the report said.

Nursing homes must meet federal standards as a condition of participating in Medicaid and Medicare, which cover more than two-thirds of their residents, at a cost of more than $75 billion a year.

The study was done at the request of Senators Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, who is chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Mr. Grassley and Mr. Kohl have introduced a bill to upgrade nursing home care and increase the penalties for violations of federal standards. The maximum fine, now generally $10,000, would be increased to $25,000 for a serious deficiency and $100,000 for one that resulted in a patient’s death.

The senators are pushing to have their bill included in a package of Medicare changes that Congress is expected to pass next month.

But the American Health Care Association, a trade group for nursing homes, opposes the Grassley-Kohl bill in its current form.