Some might argue inspections don’t occur frequently enough and may not be as thorough as they should be.
But we would not expect regulators, bound to uphold the laws and guidelines set forth by the people, to be influenced in their work by nursing home industry lobbyists. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what one news team in Pennsylvania discovered when it requested a series of emails.
It started last year when the state health department posted a disclaimer on its website indicating nursing home inspection reports were not intended for use in civil litigation against nursing homes. It’s the health department in that state that oversees nursing home inspections.
This disclaimer, reporters found, was not only pushed for by nursing home industry lobbyists. One actually helped to write it.
Then recently, a man in the area filed a lawsuit against a facility for nursing home abuse and neglect. He alleged his mother, a resident of the facility for a number of years, had been deprived of adequate medicine, water and food. Plaintiff’s attorney sought to introduce into evidence state department nursing home inspection reports on the facility. Those reports indicated the center was previously cited for not having enough staff on duty and for failure to prevent numerous elderly patients from suffering dehydration.
However, the nursing home facility is fighting back on the issue. The defense’s legal team is pointing to the disclaimer on the health department’s website, indicating it’s not to be used as evidence of compliance (or non-compliance) of legal care standards in third-party lawsuits.
Upon further investigation, it was revealed the state department only began slapping that disclaimer on its online inspection reports after the previous health secretary was contacted directly by the nursing home industry’s chief lobbyist. In e-mails, the lobbyist indicates he was concerned about advertisements by a large law firm in town, and characterized the advertisements as “misleading” and “unfair.” He asked for a meeting to “explore potential solutions.”
The health secretary asked his aide to set up the meeting.
From there, and over the next year, lawyers and lobbyists for the nursing home industry met with health department officials and collaborated on the written disclaimer. Following the implementation of that disclaimer, an industry attorney sent an email to the state’s chief nursing home regulator, thanking her for the department’s “cooperation” and “creativity” in finding an “effective and quick” solution.
When asked whether the lobbyists help write the language on the health department website, lobbyists shifted all responsibility to the health department, saying while they were pleased with the language, it was the health department’s decision to post it.
When pressed, health department officials said they acted on a concern expressed to the department. Top officials conceded that no patient advocacy groups were consulted in drafting the disclaimer. Said one top official, “Well, it sort of affects them I guess.” She added it was a “significant improvement” for the public good.
But not everyone in the public agrees, particularly considering this is a state agency that is charged with protecting the public. Ethics experts said there were serious red flags raised by the entire interaction.
Since reporters launched their probe into the incident, the health department chose to reclassify the wording on the website, referring to it as an “explainer” rather than a “disclaimer.”
In any case, the judge overseeing the case in which this issue arose overruled defense objections and allowed the inspection reports to be used.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Emails reveal nursing home lobbyists pressuring state on lawsuits, Feb. 11, 2015, By Paul Van Osdol, WTAE Action News 4
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