Nursing homes would be required to report every death in their buildings to a local coroner under a bill introduced in Pennsylvania last week.

House bills 1713 and 1714, one each for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, would mandate that operators contact a coroner “as soon as practicable” but before moving a body or contacting a funeral home.

The coroner would determine based on interviews and resident history if a formal investigation is warranted. Language also would require facilities to turn over all requested medical records, incident reports or any history of trauma involving the deceased. 

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the PA Health Care Association, said the legislation “assumes the worst” of long-term care providers.

“If the state is going to require the county coroner to investigate each and every death in a nursing home, it’s only right that we include home health, hospitals, hospice care and other facilities within the long-term care continuum as well,” Shamberg told McKnight’s on Friday. “This proposal reeks of the plaintiffs’ bar and their desire to find more and more avenues to litigate against Pennsylvania’s hardworking nursing home providers and staff.”

Pennsylvania nursing homes are already required to report any unusual or unexpected deaths, association leaders pointed out.

“Our primary focus is on supporting the family and meeting their needs during such a tragedy,” said LeadingAge PA President and CEO Adam Marles. “Adding another layer of review could increase trauma for families.”

According to PennLive, Arkansas and Missouri already have laws requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to report deaths to a coroner. In January, the news site reported that the idea for the Pennsylvania requirement came from a coroner in Lehigh County who said, “We are missing certain deaths that should be reported to us.”

The bills ultimately introduced by state Reps. Frank Burns (D-Cambria) and Jeanne McNeill (D-Lehigh) would put added pressure on providers and trigger a report in all deaths, regardless of suspected cause.

“Currently, facilities only contact their local county coroner for a death that is suspicious, such as the result of homicide or accident, not deaths that may have occurred from natural causes or a progressive disease,” the legislators wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsors. “This can lead to subjective decision-making in determining deaths to report that may have actually been a result of inadequate care — something that bad actors in these facilities might try to hide in order to prevent further investigation.”

Both bills were referred to the House Health committee on Tuesday (July 16). reported this week that the measures are part of a broader “Promise of Care” legislative package, aimed at protecting residents and increasing transparency.