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 home residents.
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 & 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.