In our work helping victims of elder neglect and abuse, our Illinois nursing home attorneys quickly developed an understanding of the difference in care often seen at non-profit homes when compared to for-profit facilities. The reasons for this difference are intuitive. For-profit facilities usually prioritize the maximization of a return for its owners and investors. Therefore, they are constantly working to minimize their costs. With that goal, these homes are much more likely to trim staff levels to the bone and cut corners in the care that they provide if doing so saves them money. The effect of those cost-cutting measures on the quality of care of residents is often a secondary concern. Nursing home neglect is the result of this drive for profits.
A new study was released this week from the United States Government Accountability Office which partially touched on this issue. The research included investigation of a wide-range of nursing home ownership issues, particularly the effect of private investment firms’ acquisition of large nursing home chains. In so doing, the GAO compared deficiency rates at non-profit homes and for-profit homes. They then compared the deficiency rates of those for-profit homes both before and after they were acquired by large private investment firms. For purposes of the study, serious deficiencies were identified as those that involved actual harm to residents or those that place residents in immediate jeopardy.
The overall results were similar to what our nursing home lawyers would expect based on our work helping victims of these deficiencies. All types of for-profit nursing homes-including those acquired by private investment firms-showed higher rates of deficiencies than non-profit homes. The data showed that this has been the case for at least the last decade. However, there was little indication that for-profit homes were made any worse by their acquisition by private investment firms.
On one hand it is welcome news to hear that new forms of nursing home ownership have not made for-profit facilities any worse. However, that is cold comfort to the thousands of residents who continue to fall victim to nursing home abuse in these facilities where profit is prioritized over their well-being. Of course the best news would be indications that these homes were actually improving and taking steps to eliminate the total number of deficiencies.
That does not seem to be the case. Instead, the best that can be said from this latest non-partial research is that for-profit nursing homes are maintaining a mediocre record and not getting any worse. The take-away to all elder advocates and those with loved ones in these facilities should be a renewed push to encourage changes that actually improve care at these facilities-not just maintenance of below average care.
Demanding accountability from negligent facilities is an important starting point in this effort. If maximizing profit is what matters to these firms, than it is helpful for those firms to get the message that providing inadequate levels of care will negatively impact that goal. In this way, these facilities may finally take the steps necessary to ensure proper staffing, training, and facility maintenance that maximizing resident safety.
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