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PA Health Secretary Wants Nursing Home Regulations Reviewed

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health wants to know if state regulations for nursing homes need to be tightened, while the commonwealth’s senior U.S. senator wants to ensure the nationwide rating system of nursing homes is accurate.

Secretary of Health Karen Murphy announced the formation of a task force to determine what actions should be taken to improve the quality of nursing homes across the state. 

“It will include a comprehensive review of regulatory requirements affecting nursing homes and making recommendations on revisions to the regulations,” Murphy said.

Creation of the task force comes five weeks after the state Attorney General’s office filed suit against Golden Gate National Senior Care, LLC for “failing to provide basic services” to residents at 14 of its 36 nursing homes in Pennsylvania. 

The allegations ranged from residents being left in soiled diapers, to residents not being escorted to dining halls and missing meals altogether, to staff falsifying records to show residents received services when they did not. The 14 include Golden Living Centers in Monroeville and Mt. Lebanon.

According to Murphy, the task force, which includes the secretaries of the departments of Aging, Human Services, and State in addition to experts in long term care management, will have six months to complete its review and make recommendations to the Department of Health “that will result in improving quality and safety of care delivered in nursing homes across the commonwealth.”

The Health Department inspects 704 nursing homes with 88,000 beds on an annual basis across the state.  With 65, Allegheny County has the most nursing homes in the state.

“It should be our goal that every one of these nursing homes is of the highest quality possible,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

Casey and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the federal government’s “Five Star” nursing home rating system in the wake of recent news reports that raised questions about the reliability of the data used in the system.

The Nursing Home Compare tool, operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is a public website consumers can use to compare nursing homes. Casey said reliable information is critical to families making one of the most important decisions. 

“They want to know that their loved one is going to get quality care and a place they can feel secure,” he said.

Casey noted that in July, CMS announced a proposal to overhaul nursing home requirements including staff training and ethics rules so as to enhance the quality of life for residents in order to qualify for participation in Medicare coverage.

But he said it’s still necessary to make sure the rating system is accurate. 

“We have to get this right," Casey said. "They (family members) want to make sure the place their loved on goes to is a home. This isn’t some institution that they just send them to and close the door. They call them nursing homes for a reason — these are where people live.”