Massachusetts Nursing Home Oversight Needs To Be Increased – And Fast

Anyone who reads my blog here knows how strongly I feel about the special care and dignity that is owed to Massachusetts nursing home residents.  Readers also know of my distrust of the nursing home industry in general, though I do allow for exceptions, as there are some good nursing home providers out there.

The problem is that the good ones – those that care for their patients diligently  and compassionately – ethically and morally – are far too few.  More and more these days, impersonal, out-of-state corporations are coming into Massachusetts to buy up nursing homes operated by smaller businesses.  What takes their place can be horrific:  Uncaring, unethical, downright shady operators whose primary goal is singular:  Cut costs  – and patient care – to the bone, in the name of maximizing corporate profits.  “Exhibit A” on that point, has recently been Synergy Healthcare Services, which I’ve written about previously on this blog.   This New Jersey-based business has purchased or acquired 11 Massachusetts nursing homes in just a year or so – and in the process has racked up stunning level of grievous complaints about patient care.

Sleazy nursing home operators are bad enough; there will always be businesses who will stoop to any low to make a buck, no matter who is harmed in the process.  But the problem is far worse than that. Massachusetts regulators charged with oversight of nursing homes in this state, are woefully guilty of dropping the ball as well.   These state regulators, employed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, are tasked with the responsibility of assuring that Massachusetts nursing home residents are adequately cared for, and safe.  They have been woefully inadequate in assuring that this is done.  This shockingly lax, and sometimes even nonexistent state oversight has been shocking.  The Boston Globe’s Health and Medical Reporter, Kay Lazar, covered this in a series of disturbing stories published in the last few months.  The Globe’s series drew needed attention to this sickening problem – but what’s been done about it?

Sadly – and predictably – not much.  The state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel, has outlined a planned “makeover” of the nursing home regulatory oversight process – but I wouldn’t expect too much.  This announcement is likely to be a combination of damage control & window-dressing.  As a Massachusetts nursing home neglect lawyer, I can assure you that the sad reality is that, if you or a loved one needs to enter a Massachusetts nursing home, you can’t rely on the state to assure that your loved one will be adequately cared for.  There are over 40,000 nursing home residents in Massachusetts, inside over 400 nursing homes across the state.  In just 2015, over 11,000 complaints and patient problems were reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  Only a fraction were even responded to on the most minor level.

The state DPH says that it plans on hiring more nursing home inspectors – but it won’t answer the dually important questions of either how many would be hired, or where it will find the money to do so, amidst a budget-cutting environment.  Just how bad is the state when it comes to nursing home oversight?  A law was passed in mid-2014 requiring public notification of proposed nursing home closure or sale.  This law was designed to protect patients and families from being left in the lurch, when nursing homes were closed or sold without their prior notice.  It took over a year and a half before those rules were even finalized – never mind the issue of any enforcement.

No – sadly and frighteningly – families of Massachusetts nursing home residents must be their own oversight personnel – their own nursing home regulators.  I wish I could tell you otherwise, but if you rely on some anonymous state employee to safeguard the interests of a loved one, you’re going to be sadly – and perhaps tragically – disappointed.

If you believe that either you or a loved one is the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse in Massachusetts, seek out the advice of an experienced Massachusetts nursing home abuse lawyer.  Make sure that the attorney or firm that you speak to, has a strong track record of success in protecting nursing home patients’ rights.  A General Practice law firm, is not the right choice for this kind of case.