The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday unveiled a new task force that aims to rein in "grossly substandard" nursing home care.
The national nursing home initiative will focus its efforts on understaffing, inadequate infection control procedures and patient neglect and abuse. It will also develop training materials and other information to help state and local prosecutors and law enforcement fight the abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of seniors in long-term care. The initiative expands DOJ's role in combating nursing home abuse beyond the enforcement of anti-fraud laws.
"Millions of seniors count on nursing homes to provide them with quality care, and to treat them with dignity and respect when they are most vulnerable," Attorney General William Barr said. "Yet, all too often, we have found nursing home owners or operators who put profits over patients, leading to instances of gross abuse and neglect."
A recent coronavirus outbreak at a Seattle nursing home has drawn attention to the living conditions of elder care patients. But the effects of substandard care go well beyond the spread of infectious disease.
"Care failures cause residents to develop pressure sores down to the bone, to lie in their own waste for hours, to starve because they cannot reach the food on their trays and to remain unwashed for weeks at a time," the Justice Department said in its announcement.
Following an announcement last April, the CMS has rolled out a steady stream of new efforts to improve nursing home care. Stronger oversight, tighter enforcement, transparency, enhanced quality measures and simplified reporting requirements are central to the administration's nursing home plan.
The Trump administration has made nursing home safety and quality a key feature of its healthcare strategy. It's an important issue for the president's political base, which skews older than the electorate, especially in an election year. But it's also a growing concern for a healthcare system that's struggling to deal with an aging population in need of more long-term care services.
The CMS on Wednesday also encouraged providers to ensure they are following proper infection control procedures with the spread of novel coronavirus. Under three new memoranda, the CMS ordered accrediting organizations to focus on those protocols during any facility inspections, as well as allegations of abuse.