Bad Nursing Homes Face Fines of Up To $100,000 Under New Bill Proposed by Sens. Kohl and Grassley

A bill proposed just days ago by two United States senators would require nursing homes with severe care deficiencies to pay civil fines of up to $100,000 -- a tenfold increase in the maximum fine that can be assessed.  The bill, entitled the "Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act of 2008," was introduced by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). 
 
In addition to stiffer fines, the bill authorizes the United States Department of Health and Human Services to develop a program to monitor nationally corporate-level problems in large nursing home chains.  In addition, more information would be added to Medicare's Nursing Home Compare web site about nursing home ownership, Special Focus Facilities (SFFs), nursing home complaints, and the results of inspection reports.  The bill was introduced just days after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released its full list of  131 of the worst nursing homes in the country
 
Deterrence is the goal of the new bill.  In theory, a nursing home should be deterred from abuse and neglect based on the risk of getting caught, the penalty that's imposed when it is caught, or both.  Weeks ago, Senator Grassley attempted to ensure nursing homes that abuse and neglect patients are caught more frequently.  He requested a federal investigation into the way state licensing agencies investigate complaints of nursing home neglect and abuse so those investigations can be completed more efficiently and more accurately.  The chances of catching bad nursing homes probably won't increase significantly, though, unless state licensing agencies get more money and more people. 
 
If state licensing agencies can't get what they need, nursing home neglect and abuse can still be deterred if the facilities and their corporate owners face greater penalties when they're caught.  The new bill, which would increase the maximum fine that can be imposed on a nursing home by a factor of 10, is a step in the direction of less neglect, less abuse, and better care -- the right direction.  Let's hope the bill passes!  
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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.     

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