Massachusetts overhauling its nursing home oversight

Massachusetts officials unveiled a plan Wednesday for strengthening oversight of the state's nursing home industry, including surprise inspections and increased fines for problem facilities.

The overhaul, presented by Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, M.D., MPH, also would put added scrutiny on those seeking nursing home licenses, following calls for more transparency in nursing home sales and closures.

The state health department currently has the ability to impose penalties — up to $50 per day, significantly less than the federal limit of up to $10,000 per day — but hasn't done so. They plan on imposing fines in March.

Bharel said the department might raise the fine, but it would need a change in state law before doing so, the Boston Globe reported.

Those fines could be used to pay for the state's new “Supportive Planning and Operations Team,” or SPOT, which will be launched this spring as a yearlong experiment. SPOT will conduct surprise inspections at problem-plagued nursing homes and focus on retraining management and staff.

The oversight overhaul also will allow consumers access to a new online system for submitting complaints and detailed nursing home information. The state is currently facing a backlog of consumer complaints, with 11,000 submitted last year, Bharel said. The health department is planning on hiring more staff to combat the backlog.

Bharel also said her department will work harder to collaborate with other state agencies, senior advocates and the nursing home industry.

Leaders from Massachusetts' top nursing home trade association welcomed some of Bharel's proposals, especially increased collaboration between nursing home groups.

“They need to put everybody at the table together,” Abraham Morse, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, told the Boston Globe.

The group is also in favor of increased scrutiny of nursing home license applicants, Tara Gregorio, senior vice president for MSCA, told the Globe.