The 2010 US Census recorded more senior citizens (40.3 million people or 13% of the total population) living in the US than at any other time in history. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in states with high senior populations with over 15 percent of residents being over age 65. This number is expected to rise in the coming decades as the baby boomer generation grows older.

Many elderly persons in Pennsylvania depend on nursing homes to assist with daily living activities and to provide proper medical care. The vast majority of nursing home care is paid for in whole or in part by federal and state funds through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Nursing homes that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs agree to abide by strict government regulations with regards to the quality of care provided. This includes providing services so that residents attain or maintain the highest practicable physical and psychosocial well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care.

Unfortunately, a recent report published by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has found the the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s lax enforcement of nursing home regulations has put the health and safety of many Philadelphia nursing home residents in jeopardy.

elderly woman at nursing home window

Careless Report Finds that the PA Department of Health is Failing Elderly Pennsylvania Nursing Home Residents

On June 11, 2015, the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia issued a report titled “Careless: How the Pennsylvania Department of Health has Risked the Lives of Elderly and Disabled Nursing Home Residents.” The report criticizes the Pennsylvania Department of Health for failing to properly investigate complaints regarding nursing home violations or enforce health and safety regulations in Philadelphia nursing homes over the last few years.

Philadelphia Community Legal Services is an advocacy group for the poor which frequently represents nursing home residents in matters concerning their legal rights. After conducting a review of Department of Health data from Philadelphia nursing homes, Community Legal Services found that from 2012 through 2014, the conduct of the Department of Health put elderly nursing home residents at risk. Notable deficiencies in the Department of Health’s regulation of nursing homes included:

  • Dismissing an extraordinary number of complaints against long term care facilities
  • Inadequate follow up after nursing home violations were reported
  • Routinely mischaracterized the severity and harm of violations against residents;
  • Dramatically decreased its penalties against nursing homes; and
  • Never once found that a violation persisted upon follow up investigation – despite the unlikelihood that all reported nursing home violations were remedied.

Community Legal Services attorney, Sam Brooks, was quoted saying:

“Community Legal Services analyzed nursing home data after hearing repeatedly hearing from  residents or their family member whose complaints to DOH were going nowhere. When we looked at the data we were shocked to find that so many complaints were dismissed and that DOH appeared to not be enforcing regulations. This disregard for patient safety is unacceptable and must be remedied.”

Read more at the Community Legal Services website http://clsphila.org/.

In summary, the Careless report found that the Corbett Administration’s soft and inadequate regulation of nursing homes put the safety of nursing home residents at risk and misinformed members of the general public who were looking for safe nursing homes.

This report is especially concerning as it comes in the wake of proposed Senate Bill 747 which aims to cap the amount of punitive damages that can be assessed against nursing homes that are reckless or commit egregious violations of care. When the government fails to do its job monitoring nursing homes, residents and their families can currently turn to the civil court system for justice. There is no question the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s seniors would be compromised even further if limitations are placed on private lawsuits against nursing home facilities.

Lets hope the Careless report serves as a wake up call for the current administration. Armed with this knowledge, the Wolf administration should take immediate action and implement the report’s proposed recommendations to improve lax enforcement of nursing regulations in Philadelphia.

About the Author: Brent Wieand is a nursing home abuse lawyer in Philadelphia and a leading advocate for rights of elderly nursing home residents. Brent is proud to serve seniors and members of their families who were injured or killed due to negligent nursing home care in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To speak with Brent directly about a nursing home injury or wrongful death, call 1(800) 481-5206. The consultation is always free and you never pay a fee unless he recovers money for you through a settlement or award.