Despite quality gains, nursing homes are still political punching bags

With a House committee set to discuss abuse, neglect and substandard care in nursing homes Thursday, one of the industry's leading groups is criticizing the "additional scrutiny" aimed at providers.

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, issued sharp comments in advance of the Congressional hearing set for Thursday morning.

In his statement, Parkinson touted quality gains made by the field, including reducing the number of rehospitalizations to save the healthcare system $2 billion. Unnecessary medication use has fallen, he added, and nursing homes have improved in 20 of 24 quality measures published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“Instead of praise for this progress, we have been subjected to additional scrutiny and criticism,” Parkinson wrote. “There is no question that healthcare in any setting involves continual improvement, but at some point, the progress nursing homes have made should be acknowledged."

Thursday's House hearing stems from “numerous articles,” written recently on “horrific instances of abuse, neglect and patient harm occurring in nursing homes,” Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, noted in a statement. He pointed specifically to the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, in Florida, where a dozen-plus residents died following Hurricane Irma.

The committee will discuss whether CMS and the Office of the Inspector General are doing enough to protect nursing home residents. Parkinson urged congressmen to not place further regulatory burdens on the field.

“The reality is that nursing homes are a convenient political punching bag. Over the years, Congress has turned to us to pay for everything from student loan debt relief to Medicare physician payments,” Parkinson said. “Instead of focusing only on one-sided rhetoric, anecdotes and preconceived beliefs, I hope the members of the subcommittee will use today's hearing to look at the objective data that demonstrates the quality care that our country's nursing homes and caregivers provide every day to some of the most respected and deserving elderly who can no longer care for themselves at home."

In her own statement Tuesday, LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan noted that the Payroll Based Journal system was put in place to help address staffing issues in nursing homes. Members of Congress should exercise patience to let these new measures take hold, she said.

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