As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to read about a bill that could change the way nursing homes handle allegations of abuse, neglect and other regulatory violations. According to a June 12 article from the Standard-Speaker of Hazelton, a committee of the state Senate passed a bill last week that would give nursing homes the opportunity to hire an independent third party to investigate allegations against them by the state. The bill, if passed, would give homes the option to choose conventional investigation by the state Health Department or a third party investigator, which they would pay for themselves. It is backed by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a business group that represents nursing homes, and is being reviewed by the SEIU.
The bill by Joseph Scarnati, a Republican from Jefferson County, is intended to address complaints by the nursing home industry that the Health Department cannot be objective. Because Health Department workers often find the violations in the first place, or investigate complaints from taxpayers, the homes believe the Health Department has an incentive to validate those workers’ findings. Under the bill, findings by independent companies would be implemented only with approval from the Health Department. If the department disagrees, it would be able to make a written recommendation. The companies would come from a list maintained by the department, and nursing homes would pay for their own inspections. Scarnati said that means it wouldn’t cost the state any extra, and a spokesperson for the PHCA said the obligation to pay would make homes carefully consider what they dispute.
This bill is not law; it still has to pass both houses of the state legislature. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I hope that before legislators vote, they carefully consider what else the nursing home companies might be buying when they pay for their own inspections. Independent companies that depend on nursing homes for their business might find they have a financial incentive to come up with the results their customers want — no health violations. If the Health Department doesn’t have the time or resources to dispute this, it could allow hundreds of health code violations to go unaddressed. And while inspections would cost the homes money, that cost would likely be dwarfed by the cost of a single nursing home abuse lawsuit from a family using the state inspection results to prove there were problems at the home. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I also think it’s appropriate in some ways for the Health Department to have a “bias.” It should be biased in favor of whatever is safest for elderly and disabled Pennsylvanians, because accountability is an important tool for fighting Pennsylvania nursing home abuse.
If your family has been hurt by abuse or neglect at a Pennsylvania nursing home and you’d like to speak with an experienced attorney about your options, Rosenbaum & Associates can help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call us toll-free at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 or send us an email today.