It is a necessary part of the senior health-care field that nursing homes and their administrators be held responsible for incidents that occur in the home and the lack of proper care. Many nursing homes in the state of Pennsylvania house seniors who cannot physically or mentally care for themselves. Without some kind of accountability, a lot of nursing homes would fail to make the proper changes to impact the quality of care, and vulnerable seniors would pay the price.
Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, the Department of Health has stepped up to resolve complaints that they were being too lenient with under-performing homes. In just the first four months of 2017, the department has fined Pennsylvania nursing homes nearly $800,000, compared to the $640,000 fined in 2014, 2015, and 2016 added together.
Fines: The Beginning of the End for Substandard Care
The interest in overhauling the fine system in nursing homes began in the summer of 2016 when the auditor general published a report suggesting that nursing homes be more aggressive in their oversight processes to improve the quality of care.
With more than 700 nursing homes in the state, such changes are expected to impact how government-funded residential facilities are run. But some industry leaders believe the imposed fines will do nothing but decrease the quality of care even more as money is funneled away from making improvements to address the shortcomings.
How To Determine Fine Amounts
One of the important components of the new fine structure for nursing home infractions is determining how much to charge centers for their various violations. Some factors that affect the final fee amount include:
- the length of time that is required to fix the problem
- the center’s previous track record
- the level of damage caused by the infraction
Centers that incur regular or high-level fines cannot survive in what is already a competitive environment; two of the three centers with the most extensive fines have shut down services in their home state.
Why The Increased Fine Structure?
Many of the problems that nursing homes get fined for have been common issues in the industry for decades. These problems include neglect leading to injury, outdated equipment, low-quality care, and under-staffing that results in unsafe living conditions.
What has changed within the field is a new definition of infraction that necessitates a higher fine structure. Nursing homes that are determined to place seniors in “immediate jeopardy” are required to pay a fine that matches the severity of the charge. As defined, immediate jeopardy is a situation that is likely to cause serious injury or death to residents. For example, leaving a dementia patient alone with access to a busy road could be fatal if the senior wanders into the street. Nursing homes accused of an immediate jeopardy situation not only face potential fines but criminal charges.
In 2016, state regulators issued nearly 40 immediate jeopardy citations, more than twice the number presented in both 2014 and 2015 together.
Explaining the Numbers
One reason for such an increase in major citations is that people are now able to complain to the regulating board on an anonymous basis. Furthermore, since all complaints must be addressed, more representatives find themselves in nursing homes where conditions are conducive to discovering dangerous or inappropriate conditions. Presence is the key to finding problems that might otherwise be hidden by administrators or staff members.
The Positive Effects of Increased Fine Structures
While an increased fine structure can lead to negative results for nursing homes that are already operating under substandard conditions, the benefits outweigh these problems. Only through improving the living conditions of our seniors can we ensure that they will live longer into their twilight years and enjoy a higher standard of living all around. Nursing homes that invest the money and time into complying with the national standards of care are those that deserve the funding and the business that Americans can provide.