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Nursing Home Reform Soon to Come with New Government Oversight

We are excited to announce that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed a new set of rules for nursing home oversight. This is the first comprehensive update of nursing home regulations since 1991.

The proposed rules were released on Monday, July 13, 2015 and announced by President Obama at the White House Conference on Aging. Totaling more than 400 pages, CMS' new rules aim to tackle the issues plaguing the nursing home industry head-on. Among its aims, CMS hopes to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and infections, introduce new safety measures, increase quality of care, and redefine terms such as "abuse," "exploitation," "misappropriation of resident property," and "sexual abuse."

More specifically, CMS hopes to ensure nursing home staff is properly trained on treating residents with dementia and preventing abuse, improving discharge planning, and strengthening residents' rights. Despite the obvious and long-standing need for such reform, the proposal is receiving mixed reviews from the industry which fears the cost of implementing these new rules. If finalized, the rules would cost the industry $729 in the first year alone and another $638 in the second year.

At the 15,000 nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid in the U.S., about 78% of residents have their care paid for by CMS. That totals more than 1.5 million people who wholly depend on CMS for their medical treatments in nursing homes.

These residents cannot afford for things to stay the same. The majority of American nursing homes are chains, owned and operated by for-profit corporations. Like any other private company, these corporations have stockholders to please profits to expand. Unfortunately, this pursuit of profit comes at the expense of patient safety.

Stronger Staffing Requirements Desperately Needed

The easiest way to cut down on costs is to keep less staff on hand; yet, by far the most important aspect of a nursing home is its staff. Neglect, abuse and mistreatment in nursing homes is most often the result of overworked employees who do not have the time or resources to properly care for all the residents. In particular, the residents with advanced dementia or other severe disabilities (in other words, residents who require the most care) are left behind.

In the most devastating cases, overworked staff turns to powerful medications called antipsychotics, which subdue residents into a drug-induced state. This is known as chemical restraint, and it is one of the most common and dangerous forms of nursing home abuse. Antipsychotic drugs like Seroquel and Risperdal should not be prescribed to elderly residents, particularly those with dementia. This is noted on the drugs' labels and it is mandated by the FDA.

However, nursing homes that understaff their facilities to drive up profits use antipsychotics to subdue residents at alarmingly high rates. Chemically restraining residents leads to a severely diminished quality of life and, ultimately, premature death. These drugs render residents unresponsive, unable to care or feed themselves, and increase the risk of serious falls.

Although CMS' new rules will have far-reaching effects, minimum staffing levels are not included. Many experts would like to see CMS go further to push for mandatory staffing minimums, which they see as the first and most important step in improving quality of care.

Fortunately, the new rules do specifically note that nursing homes cannot employ people who have been disciplined for abuse, neglect, mistreatment or theft. The rules also require pharmacists to review residents' medical charts when they arrive at nursing homes and every six months thereafter. Pharmacists will have to report any irregularities, such as inappropriate antipsychotic prescriptions.

The nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have been working with injured residents and their families for over 30 years. We handle cases of serious injury from falls, bedsores, malnutrition, and other forms of abuse in nursing homes. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a nursing home, contact our firm today for a free case review. We accept clients nationwide.