Federal authorities recently approved the first major overhaul in 25 years of the regulations that protect more than 1.5 million residents of long-term care facilities. While these reforms do address some important health and safety issues for some of our most vulnerable citizens, they fall short of what some advocates for the elderly had hoped for.
The regulations apply to any long-term care facility that receives Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, which is the vast majority of nursing homes. Enforcement will begin in stages. Some regulations already took effect last fall, more will phase in this year, and then the rest in 2019.
According to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, the most important new regulations include:
- A prohibition against employing licensed workers, such as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), who have a disciplinary action on their record.
- A requirement that nursing homes develop a patient care plan within 48 hours of a patient’s admission. Previously, a facility had 21 days to develop such a plan.
- A requirement that every nursing home have an infection prevention and control officer and an antibiotic stewardship program, including a system to monitor antibiotic
- Limitations on a facility’s ability to “dump” a resident by refusing to re-admit them after they have been in the hospital.
- Expanded training requirements for all staff, contract employees and volunteers, including education on the topics of residents’ rights and abuse prevention. CNAs will be required to have training in how to care for residents with dementia.
- Increased protections for residents’ belongings. Nursing homes can no longer seek waivers absolving them of any responsibility for the lost or stolen property of residents.
- A requirement that all suspected crimes be reported to law enforcement and the state’s certification agency.
But advocates say the new regulations don’t go far enough to address the chronic problem of inadequate staffing levels at nursing homes. Instead of requiring a specific minimum staffing level and a registered nurse on duty around the clock, the regulations only specify that a nursing home have “sufficient” staffing levels and a nurse on duty for eight hours a day.
The nursing home industry has already managed to block one important new regulation that would have barred nursing homes from requiring residents to resolve any disputes with their nursing home through arbitration – rather than suing in court. Advocates say such arbitration clauses keep the public in the dark about nursing home abuse and neglect. But last fall, nursing home industry representatives convinced a federal judge to block enforcement of that new regulation, and its fate is now very much in doubt.
Nursing home residents and their loved ones still need to be vigilant about knowing and asserting their rights. Even with the new rules in place, it’s unclear how far federal authorities will go in enforcing them. The Medical Malpractice lawyers at Sommers Schwartz can help too. If you or a loved one has been the victim of any kind of mistreatment at a nursing home, give us a call.