State of Iowa Nursing Home Inspector Refuses to Turn Over Nursing Home Statistics


September 5, 2011

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I have been watching news about the state of Iowa's nursing home agency with some interest. Iowa is a battleground for proponents of safety in nursing homes because its governor, Republican Terry Branstad, is perceived by some as overly friendly with the nursing home industry. Branstad has taken campaign donations from nursing home companies, and during his first term as governor, he was cited by three separate state officials for failing to adequately regulate nursing homes. During this term, he has cited budget problems as a reason for cutting 10 Iowa state nursing home inspectors, bringing the office from 38 to 28, even though the positions were 75 percent federally funded. When the state Legislature restored the funds, the inspectors' department used them for something else. Now, the Des Moines Register reported Sept. 3, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, a state agency, has declined to turn over statistics it compiles to the Register or the ACLU of Iowa.

The Register asked the Department of Inspections and Appeals in July for answers to six questions about violations, time spent on inspections and uninvestigated complaints. The newspaper also requested two statistical reports the Department compiles for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That agency adds the Iowa statistics to a federal database that is publicly available, and it also helps to fund the state Department. Saying the data belongs to the federal government, the Department declined to release the data. This got the interest of the ACLU of Iowa, which wrote a letter to the Department this month asking for the legal reasoning behind its refusal to release the information. In the letter, the ACLU's legal director noted that the federal government does not fund the Department completely and asked for letters, regulations or other rules the Department is relying on. CMS has given the Register the statistical reports in question, but the questions have gone unanswered. Answering them could tell readers how nursing home patients are faring in Branstad's era of looser regulation.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I suspect the Department might not want to turn over the information because it could make the Department -- and the Branstad administration -- look bad. By cutting all of those nursing home inspectors, the administration was constraining the Department's ability to do its job. Thus, it would not be surprising to find that more problems at nursing homes are going unnoticed -- and thus, uncorrected. In fact, judging by Branstad's campaign comments that nursing home inspectors have a "gotcha attitude," it's possible that this was actually a goal for him. Regardless of what the voters of Iowa think of this, the dependent elderly and disabled people of Iowa deserve to be safe in their homes, not neglected or abused. That's why, as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope the ACLU and the Register succeed in drawing attention to any problems they uncover under the Branstad administration -- both public attention and the attention of federal regulators.

If you believe abuse or neglect at a nursing home has caused your family to lose a loved one or suffer a serious illness or injury, Rosenbaum & Associates can help. To tell us your story and learn more about your legal rights at a free, confidential consultation, send us a message through our website or call us toll-free today at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7.

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