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Long Term Care Industry Must Be Accountable, Says Advocate

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By Patricia Nelson*

I disagree with a recent Elder Law Issues assertion that higher reimbursement rates are automatically required to meet nursing home staffing needs (see More On DHHS/HCFA Report Of Nursing Home Staff Shortages). Before such conclusions can be made, I await Sen. Charles Grassley’s US Committee on Aging report that will analyze some bankrupt nursing chains’ finances. The report will evaluate how nursing homes’ profits and obscene salaries/perks could instead have been used to pay for promised long-term care (LTC) services.

A recent NY Daily News article published profit margins and owner salaries from several NY nursing homes. Both totals were outstanding—mostly in the million dollar range—clearly showing why NY has one of the highest Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement rates in the nation. Since the majority of these facilities annually file Medicaid Cost Reports, the government is well aware how its monies have been spent. Since HCFA is solely responsible for monitoring reimbursements and has data at its disposal to alert itself to wrongdoing, how is it possible that so much public money entered the profiteers’ pockets?

There can be no other answer why 25% of America’s nursing homes remain dangerous places to live. Why laws and regulations are routinely ignored or circumvented to accommodate the nursing home industry—rather than protecting its residents. Industry campaign contributions are key to keeping government’s regulatory agencies clueless on how to solve the nursing home crisis. Placing industry insiders in high HCFA regulatory positions successfully stops any meaningful industry reforms from reaching the streets. The recent decision to return higher reimbursement rates to the industry is typical of how government monies are routinely awarded without necessary accountability.

The industry in its arrogance has become omnipotent. It routinely bypasses its legal obligations to provide a service for which it is paid. It rewards itself with obscene profit margins and compensation by purposefully withholding resident services for which consumers have paid and are legally entitled to have. These fraudulent activities continue unabated because government is well compensated by industry to ignore the real problems the industry creates.

And what recourse do consumers have to stop these bad practices? Clearly, each state’s oversight systems are seriously compromised. Numerous studies by the US Government Accounting Office conclude that the states do not adequately protect LTC consumers. In addition, consumers are prevented by state legislation from seeking help from local law enforcement as they must submit all complaints to their ombudsman office, which has no training in criminal investigations. In short, on the merry-go-round of LTC reimbursements, the industry always gets the brass ring.

Higher reimbursement rates without industry accountability is not the answer. Complicity between the nursing home industry and government must be exposed and legislation requiring a major overhaul in favor of industry accountability must be passed. The insanity of today’s LTC practices will be eliminated when the nursing home industry is subjected to the same civil and criminal laws—and procedures—as the rest of us.

*Patricia Nelson is executive director of Glenda’s House, Princeton, NJ, an affiliate of the Association for Protection of the Elderly. Glenda’s House conducts investigative research and advocates on behalf of New Jersey’s elder and disabled consumers by exposing corrupt practices that violate their rights. Ms. Nelson has written numerous articles on nursing home reform issues and is a noted public speaker for elder and disabled rights.

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Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

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Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.