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The Lack of Public Oversight of Nursing Homes Continues

A recent Huffington Post story discussed the sad reality that most state and federal nursing home oversight programs do not do nearly enough to ensure care at these facilities remains at a reasonable level at all times. The article author expressed dismay that chronic nursing home neglect continues at facilities across the country even though efforts to improve care have been underway for decades. Each Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer at our firm appreciates that this state of affairs is yet another reason why it is crucial to have a strong civil justice system to ensure accountability.

As far back as 1987 the landmark Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act signed by President Reagan for the first time sought to craft federal standards for nursing homes. This was the first explicitly set of federal requirements since Medicare and Medicaid were crafted to pay for long-term care services for seniors at nursing homes. The clear purpose of the standards was to ensure that the facilities which were receiving billions of dollars in state and federal funds were actually held accountable to ensure that residents “could attain and maintain the highest physical, mental, and psycho-social wellbeing.”

Yet, evidence suggests quite clearly that even a quarter century later those goals remain far from attained. There is a still a lot of work to do. Many argue that one of the main issues is the lack of proper oversight by state regulators. Facilities are often not pressed to actually make systematic changes which would improve the care for residents. This is perhaps most evident in staffing levels. For example, in Illinois new laws passed recently increased the level of nursing care that must be provided to each resident each day. Yet, those laws continue to be flaunted with many facilities not abiding by the requirement. Most facilities have faced no repercussions for violating the law, however, because the state accountability systems in place are woefully inadequate.

State regulatory bodies often do not have resources to provide the degree of oversight needed to actually meet their regulatory goals. There are too many facilities and too few agency staff members to ensure the job is done as thoroughly as necessary. Unfortunately, our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers knowing that changes in staffing levels at state regulatory agencies are unlikely. Like many other states across the country, Illinois faces very tight budgetary challenges. Drastic proposals are being offered to cut major portions of state operations (including to Medicaid programs). In this environment, it is highly unlikely that more resources will be focused on public nursing home oversight.

Instead, the obligation of holding these facilities accountable for their care will continue to fall disproportionately to private citizens. Family members must remain on the look-out for all signs of mistreatment. When identified, the mistreatment must be brought to the attention of facility administrators as soon as possible. In addition, at times it may be appropriate for families to seek out the advice of an Illinois nursing home attorney to see what legal options might be available to force to facility to prevent future harms.

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