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Special Task Force to Evaluate Pennsylvania Nursing Homes

August 10, 2015

Pennsylvania has established a special task force to investigate whether nursing homes are being held sufficiently accountable for below-average practices.

The task force — announced by Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Karen Murphy on August 5 — will begin a six-month audit of the state’s regulatory process for nursing homes after Labor Day.

The establishment of the task force comes just weeks after Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane sued Golden Gate National Senior Care, a Texas-based for-profit company that operates dozens of nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit alleges that 14 of the company’s Pennsylvania locations were “understaffed, leaving residents thirsty, hungry, dirty, unkempt and sometimes unable to summon anyone to help meet their most basic needs, such as going to the bathroom,” a July 1 press release from Kane’s office said.

More generally, observers say, the rate at which Pennsylvania has taken nursing homes to task for poor care has sharply declined in recent years.

DOH data shows that just 158 enforcement actions were taken over the seven-year span ranging from 2008 through 2014, compared to 171 enforcement actions taken against nursing homes in 2003 alone.

Members of the task force include representatives from the administration of Governor Tom Wolf (D) as well as two Republican members of the state legislature and seven university professors.

Kane’s press release accused Golden Gate facilities of improving staffing “when state inspections occurred, leading to deceit about the true conditions at the facility.”

In recent months, various media reports have shown that some nursing homes artificially boost their staffing levels in advance of inspections. Staffing levels are heavily weighed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services when they assign star ratings to nursing homes.

On the federal level, meanwhile, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D) on August 6 called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the Five-Star Quality Rating System, a method of evaluating nursing homes administered by CMS.

— by Matthew Ozga

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