In previous years, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has been rather
lax in its penalty system regarding complaints of substandard and negligent
care in nursing homes. However, within the first four months of this year,
there has been a drastic change. In fact, the state has exacted more fines
during this period than the previous three years combined, hinting at
a much-needed change in how the industry’s failings are handled.
While it is promising to see substandard nursing care finally being addressed,
it is still to be seen if improved regulations and strict enforcement
of fines will improve the state’s 700 nursing homes. A spokesman
for the industry claimed these heavy sanctions would only result in financial
strain on operators, rather than contribute to better outcomes for nursing
For too long, nursing homes were allowed to provide poor care, resulting
in an epidemic of injuries and death to nursing home residents across
the state of Pennsylvania, most of which were all preventable and easy
to avoid through more attentive treatment. Without the fear of penalties
looming over them, nursing home operators and staff were not inclined
to rectify their shortcomings. That is, until now.
The total thus far for the first four months of fines amounts to about
$796,750. For the three years that ended December 31st, records show fines totaling up to $639,500. These numbers do not include
federal fines recommended by the state, which are also usually more substantial.
State surveyors sanctioned 86 facilities so far, whereas only 72 were
sanctioned last year, and 47 in 2014 and 2015 combined. These numbers
make it clear that things are changing, even if it is still unclear where
these changes will lead.
Sam Brooks, a lawyer at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia stated,
“This jump in fines sends a clear message to nursing home operators
that the days of lax oversight are over.”
Last October, Secretary of Health Karen Murphy announced the department
would use more discretion in calculating how much it would fine any offending
negligent facilities, factoring in the level of harm, how long it took
for a problem to be remedied, the facility’s track record, and other
pertinent elements. Now, two out of the three operators with the highest
total fines no longer operate in the state, which is certainly a step
in the right direction.
One reason for the enforcement of higher fines is the approach the department
is now utilizing when it comes to citing nursing homes for “immediate
jeopardy.” This is defined as a situation in which a facility’s
lack of compliance with one or more requirements of participation has
caused, or might potentially cause, serious harm, injury, impairment,
or even death to a resident. For example, if residents who are not supposed
to eat solid food are left alone at meal time, this presents a life-threatening hazard.
Ironically, at this time, nursing home lobbyists in the state are currently
pushing legislature toward imposing limitations on the rights of injured
residents and their families to file lawsuits for serious personal injuries
which occur within long-term care facilities. Given the increased incidence
of fines, it is clear we should not be indulging their request to decrease
accountability, but pushing for increased accountability for the injuries
they cause. Injured individuals should not be denied their access to our
free and open court system to hold responsible parties fully accountable
for injuries sustained in long-term care facilities.
Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys Serving Philadelphia
When we entrust a nursing home to care for our aging loved ones, we expect
that facility to treat them well and meet the set standard of care. You
likely spent time researching a facility, took a tour, and met directors,
all to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your family member. Unfortunately,
many nursing homes betray this trust. Some of the most common errors that
occur in facilities are due to inadequate or undertrained staff, inadequate
resources, or even intentional acts of harm. Many of these issues are
not immediately visible, which is why visiting your loved one frequently
will help you detect any problems he or she might be experiencing. If
you suspect neglect or abuse is occurring, you will need to call a Philadelphia
medical malpractice attorney to assist you promptly.
At Shrager, Spivey & Sachs, our Philadelphia legal team is knowledgeable
and armed with the tenacity required to seek justice at all costs. Let
us help you get fair compensation and justice for your loved one.
Contact us today at 888.899.0652 to schedule a free consultation.