Providers take beating in Capitol Hill hearings

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As expected, critics lit into nursing home owners and their management practices Thursday at a pair of congressional hearings. Providers attempted to blunt the criticism by defending their practices and, in some cases, offering to work with reformers.

At a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing, Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) announced that he and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) intend to introduce a bill that would guarantee public disclosure of nursing homes' inspection results, staffing levels and ownership status.

Also at the hearing, Acting Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Kerry Weems discussed his agency's plans to start disclosing the names of facilities taking part in the Special Focus Facility Program - the "worst of the worst" when it comes to nursing home inspection results, according to Kohl.

"It is in everybody's best interest to let consumers know which nursing homes repeatedly demonstrate deficiencies and violate government standards. Those homes are obviously not doing their jobs," Kohl said. "Often, the only way to ensure the improvement of any entity is to bring its failings to light. I honestly believe that more nursing homes will come back into compliance for good if they have the court of public opinion and the power of market forces as encouragement."

The House Ways and Means Committee Health Subcommittee also examined nursing home quality performance and how it related to private ownership status on Thursday. Regulators, consumer advocate representatives, union leaders and other key stakeholders submitted testimony at the hearings, making many calls for tighter regulation and enhanced nursing home oversight. The hearings were an outgrowth of a New York Times investigation that said investors had bought hundreds of nursing homes recently, cutting staff and lowering quality standards while boosting profits.