Local media coverage has now led to the tripling of fines levied on Iowa nursing homes at least three times after state officials initially ignored a state mandate regarding repeat offenses.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch this week reported that the state Department of Inspections and Appeals had increased a recent citation against Lantern Park Speciality Care in Coralville from $10,000 to $30,000. The change came after the newspaper inquired about surveyors’ apparent disregard of a requirement that facilities docked for the same high-level offense more than once in one year’s time face triple the penalty.

The Dispatch investigation cited records showing Lantern Park Specialty had been tagged for “violations that contributed to a resident’s death from an infection.” The inspections department then fined the home $10,000 for failing to provide residents with the required nursing services, plus $10,000 for separate violations related to resident safety. But it did not triple the fine until the newspaper contacted officials.

The department was required to fine at the higher level because the facility had just six weeks earlier been cited for failing to provide residents with required nursing services, according to reports.

It’s not the first time the newspaper’s intervention led to higher penalties. In 2020, the newspaper investigated the survey agency over repeat fines of Rowley Memorial Masonic Home in Perry, which had been cited for contributing to a resident death and other regulatory shortcomings. At that time, the department blamed a “clerical oversight” for lower-than-mandated fines and tripled that penalty as well.

Fines in Iowa are typically suspended to allow federal inspectors to issue their own monetary penalties. But nursing home operators would likely struggle with ultimately being on the hook for three times over a repeat offense, given the current financial challenges for the sector.

In another case the Dispatch wrote about in January, Iowa’s inspection department doubled the fine for a repeat citation, rather than tripling it. After that, the Dispatch asked officials whether they had “a system in place to eliminate, or at least minimize, errors of this kind.”

The department did not respond to the newspaper’s query. The department also did not respond to a request for comment from McKnight’s Long-Term Care News submitted to its media team on Thursday.