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The Senate Finance Committee is requesting more information regarding elder abuse in nursing homes after a review by a government watchdog.
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked for more details on whether the HHS plans to re-evaluate its procedures or if it plans to take enforcement actions. The request, which came in a Sept. 15 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, is in light of an “early alert” memorandum by the HHS’s Office of Inspector General. The review, published in August, found 134 Medicare patients may have been injured in nursing homes as a result of abuse or neglect.
The letter may signal legislative action regarding elder abuse. “As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I have the responsibility to oversee the Medicaid and Medicare programs and am troubled by these allegations,” Hatch said in the letter to Price. “I hope that we can work together towards a solution to protect seniors and prevent future occurrences of abuse or neglect.”
Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, praised the letter.
“I absolutely support this request,” he told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 15. “We appreciate that Sen. Hatch covers essential questions that need to be answered.” The coalition is a nonprofit organization for improving quality of care for residents of nursing homes, assisted living, and other residential settings.
Hatch asked for the HHS’s responses by Oct. 6.
Hatch specifically asked the HHS whether the agency plans to re-evaluate its procedures to ensure that elder abuse or neglect is identified and reported, and to describe these plans if possible.
According to the OIG review, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services hasn’t enforced a requirement that nursing homes annually notify covered individuals of their obligation to report any reasonable suspicions of a crime. Hatch asked when the HHS will delegate the proper authority to the CMS.
“I think Hatch really gets to the point here that there is a responsibility when a nursing home takes in a vulnerable patient,” Mollot said. “Looking at this early alert, this highlights there are some significant problems and they’re not little problems.”
Hatch also asked whether the HHS plans to take legal action regarding the OIG’s findings of possible abuse and neglect, and if the agency has any recommendations for Congress to assist in preventing future abuse and neglect.
Mark Parkinson, chief executive officer at the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said it welcomes the opportunity to work with the federal government to ensure patient care and safety.
“It is despicable that anyone would prey on the elderly and most vulnerable in our country,” he told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 15 email. “Our association advises members on best practices and model policies for preventing abuse and neglect and also reporting requirements when abuse is suspected. In response to allegations of abuse, our members know that facilities must report it immediately.”
Mollot said there needs to be accountability when patients are abused. “Congress needs to ensure that the CMS is doing their job and protecting patients,” he said. “The buck stops at the CMS in making sure facilities are protecting patients.”
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