As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was very interested in a bill that recently became law in Harrisburg. The Long-Term Care Nursing Facility Independent Informal Dispute Resolution Act will establish a new process for Pennsylvania nursing homes facing regulatory penalties after state regulators' inspections or responses to complaints. A press release from State Rep. Mauree Gingrich of Lebanon said the process will give long-term care facilities the option of using the current regulatory process through the state Department of Health, or choosing an outside reviewer at their own expense. The bill was hailed by state legislators including Gingrich for its potential to save money for nursing homes. It was passed in the state House Dec. 16 and signed Dec. 22, with an effective date of April 1, 2012.
Under the act, nursing homes now have the option of bypassing the current review process when they are found out of compliance with a state safety regulation. They may still use that process, but they may also hire a private Quality Improvement Organization at their own expense. Legislators said this would permit nursing homes with compliance problems to dispute inspectors' findings before those findings are entered into federal systems that collect nursing home quality data. This, in turn, would permit homes to avoid litigation and thus save money. Proponents emphasized that the new system would still ensure quality of care for nursing home residents. Opponents of the bill, including organizations that advocate for the elderly, asked legislators to add provisions allowing patients and their families to have a voice during this process.
Cutting off patient access to the review process is concerning -- but as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I am concerned about other aspects of this bill as well. Allowing nursing homes with safety problems to choose an outside inspector creates an opportunity for nursing homes to essentially buy the regulation they prefer, by choosing QIOs that are willing to provide whatever answer the nursing homes like. It will slow down the process of fixing any underlying problems, because it permits homes to delay their response while they go through the QIO process. The references to keeping homes' violations out of federal records are also disturbing. Using correct and current federal records is a great way for patients to avoid homes with a record of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse, so it's better to include every violation on record. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope patient advocates are following this law closely.