By giving licenses to at least ten nursing home owners who had a history of poor patient care in other facilities that they owned in the Buffalo area, New York State has failed to protect its seniors.
Buffalo area advocates for nursing home residents are battling to protect seniors by bringing the state’s poor record with licensing to the public’s attention. In a recent article, “N.Y. fails to weed out nursing home owners with records of poor care,” the Buffalo News reported that the state is failing to do anything about stopping nursing home owners who have been fined for providing bad care from buying even more long-term care facilities.
"It is a real problem with people getting ownership of facilities when they have a poor record of care in other nursing facilities," said Toby Edelman, a senior attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. "To me the biggest predictor of how a person will do, is how that person did in other facilities the person already owns."
“New York State falls into this disturbing but all-too-familiar pattern—allowing owners with poor records to take over more facilities," she said.
Sixteen of the 47 nursing homes in Erie and Niagara counties have been bought since 2007 by for-profit, out-of-town owners, the article noted. Many of those homes are among the region's worst rated. New York let some of the out-of-town investors purchase more nursing homes, even with poor ratings and state and federal fines totaling at least $325,000 at ones they currently operated.
The applications to purchase nursing homes are subject to approval by the Health Department’s Public Health and Health Planning Council. It is comprised of 25 volunteers appointed by the governor to serve six-year terms. The members usually represent different disciplines in the health care field, from both the public and private sectors. A year ago, the Health Department staff started to give council members the federal government's ratings of other nursing homes owned by prospective buyers.
They believe this sends a message to applicants that quality matters. However, a critic of the council, Assemblyman James Skoufis, believes that its volunteers don’t have the time to properly vet prospective owners and often rubber-stamp recommendations from the council’s staff. Skoufis has proposed eliminating volunteers and professionalizing the council.
"I don't believe the Health Department is living up to its mission to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers, if they permit the operators of low-performing and dangerous nursing homes to acquire even more facilities," said Mary Brennan-Taylor, a local patient safety advocate who lectures at the University at Buffalo, D’Youville College and Niagara University. "If a nursing home is not where the governor would want to have his mother go and live her final years, unsuspecting families should not have to entrust their loved ones at those facilities.”
Brennan-Taylor cited a lack of transparency in the state process for approving nursing home licenses and notifying the public about nursing homes with issues.
Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, who chairs the Assembly’s Health Committee, also supports closer scrutiny of prospective buyers who have violations from running other facilities.
“If they have a bad record running other nursing homes, that has to be a factor, just like having a bad enough driving record can mean you lose your driver’s license,” Gottfried commented.
Gottfried said more consumer representation is needed on the Public Health and Health Planning Council. There are currently two seats for members of the public and both are vacant.
The State Deputy Health Commissioner Daniel Sheppard said the Health Department sometimes will notify a prospective buyer that he or she doesn’t meet state guidelines, prior to the application going before the state council for approval. That individual will usually be dropped from the partnership seeking the license, he said. Sheppard couldn’t say how frequently the Health Department has determined a person was not qualified to buy a facility during the screening process. However, Sheppard remarked, “It is not infrequent.”
A bill has been submitted to the State Legislature by the Health Department that would strengthen its ability to regulate nursing homes. An independent quality monitor would be authorized to keep an eye on chronically bad nursing homes and increase disclosure of ownership information, including listing connections with affiliated companies doing business with nursing homes. The bill also increases the maximum fine for violations from $10,000 to $20,000. It is hoped that these measures may make a difference.
Reference: The Buffalo News (December 6, 2018) “N.Y. fails to weed out nursing home owners with records of poor care”