Medication, currency

An operator of 16 long-term care facilities has settled a staffing case with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office for a total of $4 million. The agreement is the most expensive ever reached with a nursing home in the state, according to a report released by the AG’s office Monday.

Next Step Healthcare, headquartered in Woburn, MA, allegedly “deliberately failed” to properly staff its facilities to such a degree that it endangered residents’ safety and caused them harm, the AG’s office said. Those allegations have been resolved by the settlement.

The settlement requires Next Step to pay $3.25 million toward staffing improvements, pay $750,000 to the state for reinvestment in healthcare improvement initiatives and hire an independent compliance monitor to oversee how the settlement funds are spent at its lowest performing facilities.  

The AG’s office alleges that while already struggling to care for residents due to low staffing, Next Step further cut staffing levels in 2019 “without consideration of patient needs.” 

“For years, Next Step prioritized profit over care by failing to adequately staff its nursing homes,” said Andrea Campbell, Massachusetts attorney general. “I am proud of my team’s efforts in securing this settlement, the largest of its kind, which will send a message that this conduct will not be tolerated.”

Next Step did not respond to McKnight’s request for comment Monday.

The compliance monitor will be hired at Next Step’s expense, and conduct facility inspections and submit twice-yearly reports to the AG’s office on the ongoing staffing efforts. They will have the power to oversee how the $3.25 million is spent over the next three years — including potential wage increases and bonuses as well as recruitment and retention campaigns. 

This is only the “latest effort” to increase oversight of long-term care from the AG’s office, its report stated — noting other ongoing efforts, including creating an Elder Justice Unit for senior advocacy and partnerships with policymakers to crack down on elder abuse.

Nursing homes have been increasingly in the spotlight for regulators and policymakers in recent months, at both state and federal levels. These trends coincide with a greater level of coverage from the news media, potentially raising public scrutiny of providers as well.