MN health officials overwhelmed by nursing home complaints, report says

Minnesota Health Department officials acknowledged last week that they are leaving many nursing home complaints uninvestigated, which they said reflect a recent influx.

The Minnesota Office of Health Facility Complaints received less than 500 complaints from consumers and 3,100 issues self-reported by providers in 2010, the Pioneer Press reported on Friday. Those totals have since grown to 3,500 and 20,800 complaints, respectively, reported last year.

“We know that this is not acceptable,” Assistant Health Department Commissioner Gil Acevedo reportedly told a state senate committee. “The volume of complaints that are coming in pretty much overwhelms our staff.”

Complaints regarding actual and potential harm or other problems that could lead to Immediate Jeopardy citations are bumped to the top of the department's list, Acevedo said. A lack of resources means lesser complaints may go uninvestigated.

“Thousands of complaints are not investigated so maltreatment continues, and less severe issues may escalate to more serious harm,” the Office of Health Facility Complaints said in a budget request. The agency noted that even for complaints followed up with a on-site visit, the investigation process can be lengthy.

The complaints that were not investigated by the office last year included over 4,000 falls, 2,000 complaints of abuse by staff and 3,000 unexplained injuries. Health officials said that the issue is a “high priority,” and noted that past acknowledgement of issues with the investigation process has led to changes before.

Patti Cullen, president and CEO of provider group Care Providers of Minnesota, told the Pioneer Press her organization understands that the state's need to ramp up investigation efforts.

“We're supportive of that, even if there are going to be increased fees on our people,” she said.