A recent Bush administration change in federal rules on nursing home inspections makes it near impossible for the public to get information about nursing home violations and complaints about nursing home abuse and negligence. According to this news report, this new federal rule restricts release of detailed nursing home inspection information if officials say they are administrative and have no significant public impact.
This new rule was apparently put into effect in October with little notice and without a public comment period. It is not surprising that consumer advocates are sharply criticizing the administration for closing the door on such crucial information.
Officials of the Department of Health and Human Services say their employees have been too burdened by requests for information. Under the rule change, state employees who inspect nursing homes for the federal government are reclassified as federal employees and are not allowed to provide “privileged” information of documents to the public without approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
This rule is not only unfair to the public, but more importantly, it is extremely unfair to the families of those who have loved ones in nursing homes. It is a blatant violation of consumer rights. Families will not be able to find out what problems their loved ones had at the nursing home – whether they ate, drank fluids, slept, took a fall or received any specific treatment for a particular health condition.
Consumers and families of nursing home residents are left completely in the dark at a time when nursing home abuse and negligence is at its worst. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, one in five nursing homes in the United States had serious violations in 2007. That is a frightening reality to be faced with, especially for families who depend on nursing homes to care for their loved ones. To be left completely in the dark about what happens in these facilities just makes it more frightening for millions of American families.
Being able to get detailed investigation reports is not only important for attorneys like us to represent victims of nursing home negligence and abuse, but also for family members, potential residents or policy makers – just about anyone who wants direct knowledge of how well nursing homes are doing at their jobs.