July 24,2007

Grassley wants public to know more about nursing homes that fall short of federal health and safety standards

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Grassley wants a watch list created to alert the public about nursing homes nationwide that have repeatedly failed federal health and safety standards.

“The public isn’t able to know as much as it ought to know about nursing home quality. This is because sanctions are not publicly reported and some sanctions are rescinded before their effective dates based on fixes that turn out to be only patches that mask permanent problems,” he said. “A watch list could identify the nursing homes that repeatedly fall out of compliance. That would be good for consumers and their families.”
Grassley based his request on the findings of the Government Accountability Office. Grassley had requested this independent review to assess progress in making improvements to federal enforcement. He said the report that was issued in April revealed shortcomings in the federal effort to coordinate regulatory efforts and an enforcement approach that undermined the sanctions available through the law.”

Grassley has long worked to improve the quality of care provided in nursing homes. As Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging during the late 1990s, he conducted an oversight effort that resulted in the launch of the “Nursing Home Initiative” by the federal agency then known as the Health Care Financing Administration. The goal of the initiative was strong regulations and steadfast enforcement by federal and state officials. Since the launch of the Nursing Home Initiative, Grassley has frequently asked the GAO to provide status reports on the progress made in holding homes accountable for the quality of care provided to vulnerable residents.

Today, Grassley is Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, which is responsible for Medicare and Medicaid oversight and legislation. Nearly 1.7 million elderly and disabled Americans live in 17,000 nursing home facilities across the country. Combined Medicare and Medicaid payments for nursing home services total an estimated $70 billion annually.

This week, Grassley made his request in a letter sent to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency responsible for overseeing enforcement of laws to protect nursing home residents from abuse and neglect. He said the watch list should include nursing homes that yo-yo in and out of compliance by using grace periods to correct deficiencies temporarily.