There were several articles about the lack of investigation by Texas regulators on nursing home complaints. The Star-Telegram ran an article. MySanAntonionews.com ran article. Also American Statesman had one too.
Interviews with families and advocates and a review of thousands of pages of public records by the San Antonio Express-News show some of the city’s most frail and vulnerable residents are suffering at the hands of their caregivers. Yet state officials allow troubled nursing homes to continue operating with little or no penalty.
The lack of oversight comes at a human cost. Elderly residents were left for hours in their own urine and feces. Infestations of cockroaches and rats plagued some facilities. Employees yelled insults at residents and handled them roughly. Nursing home staff stole medication and administered the wrong drugs to residents. State inspectors found dirty feeding tubes and broken medical equipment.
The state received nearly 16,200 reports of poor treatment last year in Texas, but most — about four out of five — were unsubstantiated by investigators, who often arrive at the nursing home weeks after receiving the complaint. When investigators do cite facilities for serious problems, nursing home operators rarely face sanctions. In some cases, the state repeatedly threatened to suspend or revoke the licenses of facilities with chronic problems, yet Texas rarely took action against those nursing homes. Often, a facility promises to do better, state regulators back off, and problems crop up again in a troubling cycle.
Meanwhile, serious complaints against nursing homes have increased in Texas . Complaints about problems that put residents in “immediate jeopardy,” the most serious type of complaint, rose 26 percent since 2006, to more than 950. Complaints of “actual harm,” the second most urgent type of complaint, rose by 10 percent since 2006, to nearly 6,300.
Faced with alarming delays in investigating nursing home complaints, the state is creating teams to speed up scrutiny. State nursing home investigators blew their deadlines to investigate complaints of "high potential of harm" against residents in 66 percent of investigations in fiscal 2009. In such complaints, mental, physical or psychosocial harm is possible, though not imminent, and an investigation must be initiated within 14 days.
In response, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services will put together teams to speed the state’s response. Next month, the department will begin to hire 35 new investigators.
Complaint investigation teams are being set up statewide. Made up of nurses, nutritionists, social workers and general investigators, the teams will be dedicated solely to conducting investigations of complaints and self-reported incidents.
This month, the department plans a two-week blitz to investigate 1,550 complaints at more than 300 facilities, a department spokeswoman said.
The department regulates 1,196 nursing homes statewide and investigated 16,200 complaints and incidents last year.