Congress wants more oversight over nursing homes to help address inspection backlog

·3 min read

The growing backlog of nursing home inspections has Congress on high alert.

Lawmakers discussed how to improve the quality and safety of these facilities nationwide during a committee hearing Thursday.

This is an issue that impacts so many people across the country.

According to this congressional committee, about one out of nine nursing homes hasn’t completed an annual inspection in two years. Experts say these delays can put patients at risk!

“In one example, a complaint alleged that a resident with known high blood sugar did not have glucose testing strips available and then died,” said Erin Bliss, Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

Bliss told lawmakers other serious complaints involve allegations of patient neglect and even abuse.

They say state inspection agencies - known as survey agencies - are required to conduct these reviews every 15 months.

But officials explain many delays are caused by staffing shortages that only got worse during the pandemic.

“States have pointed to long hours and not being able to offer high enough hours to be able to compete for nurses,” said Bliss. “State agencies have also faced increasing numbers of complaints requiring on site investigations.”

Democrats and Republicans on this committee agree addressing these staffing issues and expanding the workforce are critical.

State leaders say more federal funding would help with proactive measures.

“The recertification surveys are very, very important. Those are a comprehensive look at all of the regulatory requirements and creates or results in identified issues before they become so severe that they harm residents,” said Shelly Williamson, Board of Directors for the Association of Health Facility Survey Agencies.

State officials say more federal support would also help them recruit new staff for inspections and offer more competitive pay.

The following statement is attributable to Holly Harmon, senior vice president of Quality, Regulatory, and Clinical Services at AHCA/NCAL:

“We appreciate the Senate Committee on Aging’s focus on this important issue and share concerns surrounding the backlog of nursing home surveys. Conducting timely surveys of nursing homes is important for consistency in the regulatory process. The shortage of state surveyors is indicative of a larger workforce crisis facing the entire long term care profession. As the committee’s report signals, addressing this labor crisis requires significant investments, not mandates. We need a concerted, supportive effort to help recruit more individuals to serve our nation’s seniors, and we have proposed a comprehensive set of policies that would help grow and strengthen the nursing home workforce.

“Especially coming out of the pandemic, this situation also presents an opportunity to reconsider the status quo and improve the oversight process to be more resident-driven. The current survey and enforcement system has been shown to be inconsistent and ineffective. We need to focus on the science of quality improvement by recognizing good faith efforts, leveraging continuous learning, and effectively remedying identified issues.

“Enforcement alone will not transform America’s nursing homes. If we truly want to improve care, then we need policymakers to prioritize, support, and invest in our nation’s most vulnerable and their caregivers. We look forward to working with members of Congress, the Administration, and other stakeholders on these more meaningful efforts that will make a difference in the lives of our residents.”

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