Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, is speaking out against a move by President Trump’s administration to roll back fines on nursing homes that are found to have violated health laws.
“We have a reasonable expectation that those people will be well-cared-for, and that their safety and health will be protected,” Higgins said of the 1.4 million Americans in nursing homes. “I think it’s negative.”
New guidelines by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are scaling back the use of fines against nursing homes in certain situations, even though The New York Times found 40 percent of the nation’s nursing homes have been cited for serious violations at least once in the past four years.
“Now you want to take away those regulations?” Higgins said. “What kind of care will people receive?”
The new federal guidelines come after intense lobbying by the nursing home industry. They include an 18-month transition period where nursing homes will "not be fined" except when they do not report abuse.
Instead, they will be "asked to invest in staff education" and to come into compliance "as quickly as possible,” according to a statement from Dr. Kate Goodrich, director of clinical standards and quality at CMS.
There’s evidence to suggest that nursing homes who violate these laws are already getting off easy in New York State.
The State Health Department last year fined the Waterfront Center nursing home on Buffalo’s West Side $10,000 after a registered sex offender was accused of assaulting a woman who lived there.
That amounts to just five weeks revenue derived from a single bed for the average nursing home in Western New York.
While a spokesman from the State Health Department said the agency “takes the health and safety of nursing home residents with the utmost seriousness,” state auditors found in 2016 that for 80 percent of violations, the department levied no fine at all.
A Medicare spokeswoman said the agency is not discouraging regulators from levying fines.
"Rather than spending quality time with their patients, the providers are spending time complying with regulations that get in the way of caring for their patients and doesn't increase the quality of care they provide,” Goodrich of CMS said.
Higgins replied, “We have a right to expect that patients are going to be well-taken-care-of, well-supervised and well-cared-for.”
Click here to see if a nursing home near you was cited for fines within the last few years. Choose the nursing home and then click on “enforcement.”