New law eliminates fines for nursing homes that fix problems

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Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) this week enacted a law that eliminates fines against nursing homes that identify and correct health and safety issues on their own accord.

The law sets out new rules and guidelines for a "quality assurance assessment" program.Many Iowans are up in arms, according to the Des Moines Register, because the legislation allows nursing homes, if they are able, to correct violations on their own and avoid fines. Such self-correctable violations include low staffing levels, which in itself can be responsible for a number of other types of preventable violations, the Register notes.

Not everyone opposes the new law, however. According to Steve Ackerson, executive director of the Iowa Health Care Association, the bill passed with no dissenting votes in either the state House or Senate. And persistent charges from opponents that the new law lets nursing homes off the hook for major violations are just wrong, he told McKnight's.

"The fines that will be affected are the $500 to $50 fines," Ackerson said. "Anything with any harm or any abuse is not applicable. You can't self correct on that."

What's more, he added, the bill corrects for certain disparities between federal and state regulations that can unfairly penalize nursing homes. For example, the IHCA fought to make sure that fines and violations eliminated at the federal level are also eliminated by the state. Provisions also were included to ensure that state surveyors receive adequate training in the areas they oversee, preventing unqualified regulators from making erroneous charges of poor quality of care, Ackerson noted.

Recently, the Illinois state legislature considered a similar bill that would eliminate fines against nursing homes, provided would-be penalty funds are instead used to fix the problem that led to the fine. (McKnight's, 5/7)