State News for June 2016

State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried
State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried

NORTHEAST

Investigation says nurse licensing system is under little scrutiny; lawmaker calls for more suspensions

NEW YORK — A scathing indictment of the state's system for licensing, monitoring and disciplining nurses has caught the attention of key officials in Albany following an investigation by a group of independent journalists earlier this year.

Among them is State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (D), who has vowed to find more powers for the state licensing agency to suspend so-called bad actors.

The investigation by Manhattan-based ProPublica exposed system failures that allowed nurses to work for months, sometimes years, without scrutiny or punishment after being accused of patient neglect and abuse, theft and other serious crimes. 

“Unlike many states, New York does not require applicants for nursing licenses to undergo simple background checks or submit fingerprints, tools that can ... flag subsequent legal problems,” report authors noted. Presently, nurses in the state are only asked to self-report any criminal history.

Some lawmakers are considering shifting licensing authority from the Education Department to the Health Department, a move cautiously supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

19 new inspectors hired

MASSACHUSETTS — The state health department is undergoing self-imposed operational reform following backlogs of consumer and facility complaints, as well as Boston Globe reports alleging poor vetting of facility license applicants.

The department hired 19 new nursing home inspectors since last July to bring its staff to 77 as of late April. Another 10 inspectors and seven support personnel were expected to be hired soon because “a lot of vacancies” had been a problem, according to health commissioner Monica Bharel, M.D., MPH.

She also announced a series of ongoing measures, including surprise inspections, as well as tighter scrutiny of individuals and corporations seeking licenses to own and operate skilled nursing facilities.

Workers face tough choice

NEW HAMPSHIRE — Unionized nursing home workers are facing the difficult decision of forgoing raises to keep their health insurance plan or switching to a lower-cost insurance plan that allows cost of living and laddered pay increases over the next two years.

County commissioners told the union representing Belknap County Nursing Home the new plan would have meant higher compensation from a combination of pay hikes, wellness benefits and lower insurance costs, plus a $1,000 bonus.

But as Richard Gulla, president of SEA/SEIU Local 1984, argued in a local newspaper, many workers wouldn't receive the full benefit of the change because they had already reached the maximum hourly rate for their positions.

Hurricane funds use OK'd

NEW YORK — Government inspectors said officials of a hurricane-ravaged nursing home lawfully received nearly $3 million in disaster relief funds to restore the facility.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy severely damaged Bayview Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Island Park, leaving it flooded and destroying the first floor, roof and numerous windows. 

The facility borrowed money to complete most of the repairs, and was later given $2.8 million in relief funds. A Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General report investigated the facility for not following standard procurement and tracking requirements but later determined the costs were allowable.

MIDWEST

Resident survey results

OHIO – Residents gave high overall marks to the state's nursing homes and residential care communities, and the Ohio Department of Aging is sharing the results of its annual satisfaction survey online. 

The agency hopes facilities will use the survey results to better focus efforts to improve care and operations. The survey revealed a statewide average score of 87 (out of 100) for nursing facility resident satisfaction and 91.7 for residential care facilities.

Ohio nursing homes are required to participate in at least one quality improvement project every two years to qualify for licensure. More than 31,000 residents in 960 nursing homes, and 16,000 residents in 635 residential care facilities participated in the survey.

‘Granny cam' bill debated

MINNESOTA — Proposed legislation would make the state the sixth in the nation to protect nursing home residents and their relatives from retaliation if they install video cameras in their private rooms.

The so-called “Granny cam” bill would require facility notification and resident consent before any equipment would be installed, as well as clearly visible signs notifying visitors of the recording devices, effectively negating the use of hidden cameras. Some resident advocates criticize that provision, saying it would discourage residents from installing such devices.

The state has historically bypassed efforts to legislate video surveillance in nursing homes. The proposed bill comes after a series of investigations of video footage documenting abuse, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Product ‘monopoly' alleged

ILLINOIS — Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) administration was seeking to consolidate all Medicaid purchases of incontinence products with a single supplier, cutting out scores of smaller companies and raising questions about procurement processes by a nonpartisan, independent website and social media effort dedicated to involving state residents in key issues.

Reboot Illinois reported that the Department of Healthcare and Family Services had issued a request for proposals for companies willing to be the sole provider of incontinence products to the state's Medicaid recipients. The measure has been tabled over questions about the bidding process.

$300M LTC overhaul

WISCONSIN — Lawmakers say a plan to overhaul long-term care programs raises more questions than it answers in its promise to trim $300 million in costs over the next six years in a state with a rapidly aging population.

The Department of Health Services says the plan would keep the state's 55,000 eligible residents healthier and thereby reduce the need for services, the Associated Press reported. Under the new system, insurance companies acting as integrated health agencies, or IHAs, would supervise medical and long-term care.

Average enrollment in the state's Family Care and IRIS programs is expected to grow by 37% in the next decade, according to the department.

SOUTHEAST

Bankruptcy court to OK sale?

TENNESSEE — Hixson-based New Beginnings Care LLC hopes to end its current ownership after filing for bankruptcy in April, according to local news reports.

Tennessee Long-Term Care Ombudsman Laura Brown told the Times Free Press that the nursing home chain's bankruptcy petition included putting its 13 facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio up for sale. Inspectors have closed six of the facilities because of deficiencies, Brown added.

Spill pay wanted for Medicaid 

ALABAMA — Lawmakers are reportedly pressing to use $55 million from a large oil spill settlement to shore up the state's struggling Medicaid program.

A bill requesting a $639 million settlement from BP PLC also would authorize the Legislature to secure the revenue for the health program, which is currently underfunded by approximately $85 million. 

Without funding, the state's planned transition to managed care would likely be put on hold, and up to $120 million in cuts would be made in prescription drug coverage, outpatient dialysis, physician payments and other areas.