Despite Record of Poor Care, New York Approves Nursing Home Owners

New York State routinely allows nursing home owners with a record of poor care and government fines to operate more long-term care facilities in the state, according to a report by The Buffalo News. Speaking to the upstate newspaper, Toby Edelman at the Center for Medicare Advocacy described the problem as a “disturbing but all-too-familiar pattern” and joins elder advocates in demanding the New York Health Department provide more transparency and stricter scrutiny when selecting nursing home owners. In response to the criticism, the New York Department of Health, the state agency responsible for regulating nursing homes, drafted legislation intended to allow stronger and more effective government oversight of the long-term care industry.

The evidence uncovered during The Buffalo News investigation paints the portrait of a government agency whose incompetence is endangering elderly New Yorkers. Of the 47 nursing homes in the newspaper’s geographical area, sixteen were purchased in the last decade by for-profit nursing home corporations, which have a documented record of provider lower-quality care to their residents.

In one instance, the Department of Health approved the takeover of a nursing home by a group of New York City investors fined almost $90,000 in the last two years. In another example cited by the newspaper, a nursing home corporation with poor ratings and federal and state fines totaling “at least $325,000” was approved to purchase another nursing home in the state. In both cases, the state agency amazingly concluded that it had received “no negative information” about the nursing home owners. The deputy health commissioner told the newspaper that the agency now vets potential nursing home owners more thoroughly.

Under state law, applications to own a nursing home must be approved by the Health Department’s Public Health and Health Planning Council consisting of 25 volunteers appointed by Gov. Cuomo to serve six-year terms. According to the New York Department of Health, the agency began providing state and federal nursing home rankings to assist the council in just the last year. The department says that including this information sends a message that “quality matters.” However, because the members of the council are only volunteers, government legislators state they lack the time and commitment necessary to thoroughly vet all nursing home applicants.

In addition to changing the council’s twenty-five members to a paid position, the department also drafted legislation intended to strengthen its oversight of the nursing home industry. Notable parts of the legislation include: authorizing the health agency to appoint independent monitors to oversee problematic nursing homes, doubling the maximum fine on nursing homes, and requiring potential owners to disclose any possible conflicts of interest or previous fines. While some state legislators sound wary of providing the agency with more power, the bill appears to enjoy bipartisan support in the legislature. Gov. Cuomo has not commented on the pending legislation, yet.

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