State lawmakers are trying to crack down on bad nursing homes after data has shown that the state government gives many troubled facilities a free pass each year.
In fiscal 2015, state officials cited nursing homes for 17,466 state violations, but officials took just 40 enforcement actions, according to a report released by AARP Texas last month. Most of the serious violations occurred in 328 of the state’s 1,200 facilities, but the state collected fines from only 22 of them, letting others escape accountability when vulnerable residents are hurt, the organization said.
In fiscal 2016, the state imposed 51 administrative penalties on nursing facilities, which committed 18,089 violations during that time, according to state officials.
State law allows long-term care facilities to avoid state penalties by addressing certain violations within 45 days of receiving notice, as long as there was no serious harm or threat to residents or limits to the facility’s ability to provide care. State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill Thursday to require penalties for lesser violations, directing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to develop sanctions based on the violations’ scope and severity, and to increase financial penalties for most serious violations.
“Senate Bill 932 goes a long way toward holding nursing home owners and operators in Texas accountable when they hurt residents and jeopardize their health,” AARP Texas director Bob Jackson said.
Schwertner said he wanted the bill to “send a clear and unambiguous message that we’re serious about protecting our most vulnerable citizens from abuse and neglect.”
A Sunset Advisory Commission report in 2014 concluded that the state agency that oversees nursing homes didn’t do enough to penalize chronic violators. Two years ago, the Senate approved a similar bill but it failed in the House. Instead, lawmakers passed a law that lets the commission revoke a nursing home’s license if the facility amasses three or more violations related to abuse or neglect in a two-year period.
Kevin Warren, head of the Texas Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said in an opinion article in the Houston Chronicle this week that “woefully inadequate funding — not a lack of regulation — is the real problem.” He has said the state has underfunded Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes by $800 million.
“We will continue to work with the senator to support efforts to prevent serious violations from occurring; including the overdue need for adequate funding to allow proper staffing and resources needed for high-quality care in Texas nursing homes,” Warren told the American-Statesman on Friday.
Schwertner also filed a bill Thursday that would reform provisions that let home health care agencies avoid penalties if they take corrective action within a certain period of time. He filed another bill that would require all nursing facilities in Texas to carry liability insurance coverage of $300,000 per occurrence and $1 million in aggregate.