Over the holiday weekend, the Trump administration scaled back the guidelines for issuing fines against nursing homes that violate safety and health regulations which aim to keep residents safe. This scaling back is part of a broader shift to “relax” various Medicare penalty protocols that was requested by the American Health Care Association, the main organization that speaks on behalf of the nursing home industry.
The organization argued that health and safety inspectors were too focused on finding wrongdoings at nursing homes instead of assisting the facilities themselves, but the violations and fines are a crucial part of ensuring that wrongdoings don’t happen at all—wrongdoings like neglect, abuse, and mistreatment that can endanger the lives of every resident.
The violation system has been proven to work. The New York Times found that since 2013, almost 6,500 nursing homes—four out of every 10—have been cited at least once for a serious violation. These violations commonly include failing to protect residents from avoidable accidents, mistreatment, abuse, neglect, and injuries like bedsores which are often a direct result of neglect.
Medicare acted by fining approximately two-thirds of those facilities. These fines force facilities to take direct actions to curb procedures, policies, and hiring protocols that endanger residents. After the fines are paid, the violations are then corrected. Without these fines, many nursing homes would have continued allowing abuse and neglect to occur.
According to the Times, the new relaxed Medicare guidelines have been slowly implemented over the course of the year. These guidelines, in particular, discourage safety inspectors and regulators from fining nursing homes that act negligently towards residents in certain situations—even in cases where a resident’s death results. The guidelines will also lower the fines themselves.
Nursing home resident advocates, civil rights advocates, and Medicare advocates argue that the new guidelines are a risky move. During a time when a solid portion of our state-regulated nursing homes are already struggling to provide an acceptable standard of care for residents, these relaxed guidelines give facilities permission to cut even more corners which may place patients at risk for injury or even death.
Our elderly population deserves better care—not worse. Long term care facilities shouldn’t be given permission to “relax” regarding the crucial task of prioritizing patient health and safety. Unless we can hold nursing homes and employees fully accountable for negligence and mistreatment where and when it occurs, we cannot place our trust in these facilities. These rolled back regulations are just one example of how loss of corporate accountability can place the defenseless at risk.
Civil lawsuits, such as those that are filed after a loved one is abused or neglected in a facility, are another. Laws and regulations aimed to uphold the rights of individuals who do not always have a voice—those who need our protection most in the case of nursing home abuse and neglect—should be protected, not broken down.