headshot - AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson
American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson

The Biden administration’s premise that quality in nursing homes has gotten worse is “further from the truth,” maintains the leader of the nation’s top nursing home association. 

“As you analyze the report and the release from the White House itself, you really have to divide it into two categories: the first is the rhetoric around the report and the second are the solutions themselves,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric does not match the reality of what is actually happening in nursing homes.”

Parkinson’s comments came during a press conference hosted by the association on Wednesday, and two days after President Joe Biden laid out an extensive nursing home reform initiative that includes more than 20 actions to improve quality of care.

They include implementing a minimum staffing requirement, ratcheting up penalties for poor performing facilities, reducing overcrowded rooms and more transparency regarding nursing home ownership.

Parkinson said data over the last 10 years has shown that providers have made significant advances in quality. He pointed to the 20 quality measures used by the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services to grade providers and said data shows the industry has improved in 16 of those 20 measures. 

That progress hasn’t happened because of more regulations, fines and penalties but rather because providers wanted to get better themselves, he said. 

“The suggestion that nursing home quality has declined is simply factually inaccurate,” Parkinson said. 

Nursing homes victims?

He added that providers have dealt with two horrible things over the last two years: the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on long-term care, and poor public policy. Parkinson said those policy decisions include not initially prioritizing nursing home facilities and delays in personal protective equipment distribution.  

“To now criticize the sector for what occurred over the last two years is both factually inaccurate, based on that false premise, and it’s really cruel because providers have done everything possible to save lives and will continue to do so,” Parkinson said. 

The solutions offered, like minimum staffing requirements, don’t take into account the ongoing workforce shortage and are “unrealistic and impossible.” However, he said other solutions are very achievable, like focusing on poor providers and helping them get better. 

“We’ll be right there with them, arm-in-arm, trying to improve the poor providing facilities and get them better,” Parkinson said. 

“But, the continued attacks on good operators — [those] that are waking up everyday doing everything they could possibly do to provide great care, that are laying awake because they’re worried about their residents in the building — we’re just not going to stand by and let them get attacked. It’s just not fair,” he added. 

Parkinson noted that the good news is “a lot of this stuff can’t be done administratively. It has to be done with Congressional input,” which the White House acknowledges. He believes the minimum staffing requirement should be a Congressional decision but it’s not entirely clear if the White House will consult with Congress before pursuing it.