State bill would ban anonymous complaints against nursing homes

Anonymous complaints about Illinois' nursing homes would no longer be accepted or investigated under a bill currently up for debate in the state House of Representatives.

H.B. 5601, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Mike Unes (R), would amend the state's Nursing Home Care Act to require identifying information from people filing complaints about neglect or abuse in a nursing home. That information would be kept confidential by the Illinois Department of Public Health, but nursing home investigators would be able to contact people who filed complaints for further information.

Close to 20% of the 5,600 long-term care complaints complaints received by the department last year were filed anonymously, according to the State Journal-Register.

Unes believes prohibiting anonymous complaints may help prevent false reports “made to harass nursing homes,” as well as encourage people to provide contact information to investigators to “help the state punish and fine negligent nursing homes for bad behavior,” the Journal-Register reported. The bill is currently slated for a full House vote before moving on for consideration by the senate.

The bill has already earned backlash from nursing home resident advocates, who say Unes' legislation doesn't take into account the health and vulnerability of the employees, residents and family members who may file a complaint.

Under the bill, people filing complaints against nursing homes would also have to be informed of the possible criminal sanctions they face for filing false reports. Those sanctions already exist, but informing people who file complaints may make them nervous or intimidated, advocates say.

“They want people not to file complaints,” Wendy Meltzer, executive director of Illinois Citizens for Better Care, told the Journal-Register.

Provider groups and facility operators disagree, saying the bill would help facilities better address problems and save time in state investigations.

“If you have a legitimate concern about a loved one, you have nothing to fear,” Matt Hartman, vice president of public policy for the Illinois Health Care Association, told the Journal-Register.