Members of Congress ratchet up pressure on nursing homes

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma has come under fire for her agency's oversight of nursing homes.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma has come under fire for her agency's oversight of nursing homes.

Four influential Republican Congressmen sent a letter to federal regulators Tuesday, requesting sweeping answers about the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' oversight of nursing homes.

It is part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's official inquiry into how well the agency oversees skilled nursing providers nationwide.

At the epicenter of the inquiry is the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which infamously did not have sufficient power supplies after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in the fall, allegedly leading to the deaths of 14 residents. The lawmakers' letter also painstakingly asks CMS for any information on Jack Michel, who leads the company that owns Hollywood Hills and has had run-ins with regulators and law enforcement officials at several other healthcare facilities he owned or operated.

The nine-page letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma also asks for information as to what CMS has been doing regarding “reports of sexual abuse and neglect” in skilled nursing and nursing facilities around the nation

“The committee has been closely following recent media reports describing horrific instances of abuse, neglect, and patient harm allegedly occurring at SNFs and NFs across the country,” the letter said. The lawmakers noted that “the adequacy of the CMS' oversight” also has been “called into question” recently by reports from the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office.

“These reports raise serious questions about the degree to which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is fulfilling its responsibility” to keep skilled nursing residents safe, wrote Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR); Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS); Subcommittee on Health Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX); and Congressman Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL).

They went on to describe recent news accounts and federal agency reports detailing hundreds of incidents of neglect or abuse not being investigated in a timely manner, or not at all.

The lawmakers said they wanted CMS to brief them on the issues raised no later than April 16, along with a bundle of further information no later than April 23.

In addition to a handful of Michel- and Hollywood Hills-related requests for specific information, the lawmakers made many other sweeping requests for documents or background.

Among them were documents and information about complaints related to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. They also requested survey- and certification-related documents, and complaint findings since Jan. 1, 2010.

They also seek information on beleaguered Special Focus Facilities' oversight and what CMS does to ensure nursing home staff are licensed appropriately.