N.Y. Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli made several recommendations after his audit of the Department of Health (DOH) performed on February 19, 2016. DiNapoli met with senior citizen advocates in Albany and discussed improvements needed to enforce nursing home violations. One of the major problems with enforcement is the delay in assessing fines after violations are found.
Statistics show that there has been a significant decline in the amount of nursing home violation fines collected over the past three years. In 2011, the DOH collected $628,000 in fines from nursing homes; in 2014, that number decreased to only $152,000. This is a result of fewer fines being issued and an increase in the amount of time it takes the DOH to issue a fine from six months in 2007 to almost four years in 2014.
DiNapoli and senior citizen advocates note that there are three reasons for the increased time it takes to issue a fine. One reason for the increase is that there is only one part-time employee assigned to processing enforcement referrals and preparing enforcement packets. A second reason is that the DOH waits a minimum of six months before processing enforcements in case fine assessments are withdrawn due to amendments or appeals. The third reason is that they use a database that is incomplete.
DiNapoli provided the DOH four recommendations:
- Eliminate backlog in enforcement activity and maintain the timely processing of fines;
- Take steps to initiate the assessment of fines earlier;
- Develop a more comprehensive program to monitor all enforcement actions; and
- Consider assessing fines for citations on lower-level infractions, particularly those that are occur as a pattern.
Jack Kupferman, president of the Gray Panthers NYC Network, a senior citizen advocacy group, stated that he is glad a leader of the state is finally listening because this matter is past overdue. He continued to say that this is the first step in “preventing abuse and neglect of vulnerable nursing home residents.” DiNapoli added families need to know their loved ones are safe and that healthcare providers are being held accountable for problems that occur.
In addition to reform within the DOH, DiNapoli is also seeking legislative action to help solve the problem. Prior to 2008, the maximum fine allowed for a violation was $2,000 per incident, even in cases that resulted in serious injury or death. The law was amended to allow the DOH to assess a fine of $5,000 for some repeat violations and a $10,000 fine for violations resulting in physical harm or death; the rate is scheduled to revert back to the 2008 violation rate of a maximum $2,000 fine in April 2017. A $2,000 fine is less than one weeks revenue from a bed at a nursing home.
The DOH has reportedly increased staff and cleared up some of the backlog since the audit report was released. DiNapoli also gave the DOH credit for inspecting nursing homes and acting quickly on serious complaints. He stated that lack of enforcement takes away any sense of deterrence from committing these violations. An advocate of the Senior Action Counsel, Gail Meyers, stated that unsafe nursing home conditions come at a cost as resident’s have a right to dignity, respect, and a safe environment.
The attorneys at Gallivan & Gallivan focus on protecting the rights of nursing home residents. We have handled hundreds of cases involving nursing home neglect and abuse, and we have secured over ten million dollars on behalf of our nursing home clients. Contact us.