A provider advocate is encouraging others to take a deeper look inside an audit report that criticized the Arizona Department of Health Services’ handling of complaints of abuse and neglect in nursing homes. 

The Arizona Auditor General’s report found that the state agency failed to investigate, prioritize or resolve nursing home complaints and self-reported incidents, which included allegations of abuse and neglect of residents. 

David Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Health Care Association, said that on surface the audit is pretty “damning,” but he noted it evaluated only five nursing homes out of 147 in state. Within that, the report reviewed 33 complaints and 37 self-reports the agency received from five “judgmentally selected” facilities between 2017 and 2018, according to the audit.  

“When you look at the report, it seems very damning, but when you look at the details, they only looked at five long-term care facilities. That’s out of 147,” Voepel said. “They’re trying to extrapolate the department is doing a bad job by just look at these five. We would argue that the other nursing homes are doing good jobs.” 

The Arizona DHS also criticized the scope of the audit in its response. It said the audit findings “focus on (a) very narrow, non-representative sample.” 

Voepel said the Arizona DHS is responsible for a lot of health programs throughout the state and long-term care is just a small part of that. He added the agency does a “quite a good job of surveying” facilities each year and that the agency has not been out of compliance with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

The audit recommended the Arizona DHS prioritize and timely investigate and resolve all LTC facility complaints and self-reports. It also suggested that the state Legislature should consider forming a task force to study and propose policy options for addressing the agency’s investigation process for complaints. 

“(We) totally agree, totally agree (with the audit recommendations). Absolutely,” Voepel said. “But, let’s look at all of (the nursing homes).”