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Nursing homes' penalties for violations decreased

Partially in response to a lobbying effort by a trade association representing nursing homes, the federal administrative agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid has changed its approach to fining nursing homes which are caught not properly caring for patients.

The end result will be fewer and lower fines for nursing home abuse or neglect, meaning Cook County nursing homes have one less incentive to avoid shortcuts and ensure that patients get the quality care they deserve.

Ostensibly, the reason for the rollback was that many nursing homes were getting fined for violating regulations which, the industry claimed, were cumbersome and took nursing home staff's focus off patient care and instead required the staff to adhere to a kind of legal checklist.

Under the new rules, regulators are going to be less likely to impose a daily fine for certain ongoing violations, opting instead to impose a one-time penalty of a little more than $20,000.

Regulators will still use daily fines when they discover violations during an inspection or serious problems, but are scaling back this enforcement tool for supposedly isolated lapses that get corrected even before inspectors arrive. This approach will be in place even when the end result of an isolated lapse is the death of a patient.

While this story is quite frankly discouraging to those who want to see patients get the best care possible, it is important to remember that the change only affects administrative penalties and fines. Even if the nursing home did not intend harm, a family can still hold it accountable for all acts of abuse or neglect if those acts hurt the family's loved one.

Source: The New York Times, "Trump Administration eases nursing home fines in victory for industry," Jordan Rau, Dec. 24, 2017

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