Task force releases recommendations to improve nursing home staffing, inspections, and care

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has released a task force reports with recommendations to improve nursing home care.

“To the more than 180 thousand residents in Pennsylvania nursing homes, we hear you and we are listening,” Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy said during a press conference. “These changes in regulation and in our philosophy will help improve your quality of life.”

The task force formed in the weeks following allegations of filth and neglect in local Golden Living nursing homes. The Department of Health also invited Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to take a closer look at how the agency handles its oversight of nursing homes.

The task force report includes suggestions for internal reforms and legislative updates. Pennsylvania’s nursing home regulations have not been updated since 1999.

“Heretofore, we’ve been very focused on the physical environment, which is very important,” Dr. Murphy said. “But we’re missing a piece. And I think now focusing on the perspective of the nursing home resident will be much more successful.”

The Department of Health has already made major upgrades to its website, with the goal of making it easier to look up recent nursing home inspections. DOH is also trying to make inspections public more quickly, so people in the community are not making decisions without the most recent data.

Other changes include revamping training, standardizing the nursing home inspection process, and increasing fines for facilities that are out-of-compliance.

During the press conference, Dr. Murphy emphasized that the reforms are meant to support, not punish, nursing homes.

“There are many quality nursing homes throughout Pennsylvania,” Dr. Murphy said. “There’s 130 thousand people working in them trying to do a good job.”

But whether there are enough of those people will be a tougher issue to tackle. During the task force research period, short-staffing kept coming up during interviews with nursing home residents.

“Their response was, ‘I’ve often been scolded by staff but I somehow feel as if I deserve it,'” Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne said, as she described one example. “‘I need a lot of help, and often they don’t have time for me. So now I don’t speak up too frequently. I just try to go along with the flow.’ This resident’s reality is simply not acceptable.”

Dr. Murphy says the Department of Health is working with lawmakers. Currently, Pennsylvania requires 2.7 hours of direct care per resident per day. The national recommendation is 4.1 hours.

“We will do everything in our power to give them the tools that they need both in the nursing home as well as the Department of Health,” Dr. Murphy said.

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