Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do Nursing Homes Need More Government Oversight?

Last week, USA Today reported on thefts from nursing trust funds.  An investigation uncovered more than 1500 instances where nursing home staffers helped themselves to residents' money from trust accounts.  Senator Bill Nelson, chair of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, took notice of the article. He is asking the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the federal oversight of nursing homes.

In a letter this week to the inspector general, Senator Nelson, pointing to the USA Today article, asserted

Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), the federal agency charged with overseeing nursing homes, revealed major "deficiencies," including inadequate accounting, or failing to provide residents with access to their trust fund money. . . . Apparently, health and administrative aides charged with auditing these trust funds understandably focus their nursing home reviews on health and safety issues; but at the same time many of them lack adequate backgrounds in forensic accounting, bookkeeping, or appropriate financial oversight methodologies.  These shortcomings create "crimes of opportunity," as one state official phrased it. It's difficult not to conclude that there are insufficient safeguards in this nursing home trust fund system, and that is the opinion of a number of experts cited.

Based on his conclusions, Senator Nelson called for "an examination of CMS's management and oversight of these nursing home trust funds."

The American Health Care Association told USA Today that it welcomes the possibility of more government oversight. "It is important for all nursing centers to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place to guarantee proper management of resident trust funds," the association said. "We support continued efforts to strengthen the regulations and oversight that can prevent bad actors from exploiting the frail and elderly."