It was reported by the Birmingham News last month that the Alabama Department of Public Health expects to eliminate by the end of September a backlog of nursing home inspections that has plagued the state for years. As you may recall, there had been harsh criticism from the federal government concerning the efforts in Alabama. Since then more inspectors have been hired and two branch offices opened to help regulate the state’s 233 nursing homes. Rick Harris, director of the department’s bureau of health provider standards, says that in addition to catching up for the first time in years on annual nursing home inspections, as required by federal law, Public Health officials have eliminated a backlog of investigations into complaints about nursing homes. In this regard, Mr. Harris said:
We’ve never been caught up on abuse allegations; we’re current on abuse allegations. We’ve never been caught up on informal dispute resolution meetings; we’re totally current on those. We’re doing better than I can ever remember us doing. We’ve got plenty of staff to get the work done
Harris’s comments follow a May 9th report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The report said many nursing home inspectors routinely overlook or minimize problems that pose a serious, immediate threat to patients — things such as malnutrition, severe bedsores or overuse of prescription medications. Nursing homes are supposed to be inspected once a year by state employees working under contract with the federal government, which sets stringent standards. Federal officials validate the work of state inspectors by accompanying them or doing follow-up surveys within a few weeks. The GAO found that state employees nationwide missed at least one serious deficiency in 15% of the inspections checked by federal officials.
In nine states, including Alabama, inspectors missed serious problems in more than 25% of the surveys analyzed from 2002 to 2007, according to the report. The other eight states most likely to miss serious deficiencies were Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming. The GAO report was based on federal analysis of surveys that were conducted two years ago, when Alabama was struggling with a shortage of inspectors, according to Mr. Harris.
Over the past two years the state has increased wages for inspectors, who are registered nurses. It has also opened branch offices in Shelby and Mobile counties so inspectors won’t have to travel from Montgomery to nursing homes throughout the state.
The result has been a significant increase in inspectors, and the state is on track to clear up its backlog of inspections by the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30. In addition, training has improved, and there have been no further problems with missed deficiencies. The state has been down to 33 nursing home inspectors, but now has 60 and that’s good news.
Source: Birmingham News
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