Disparities in Nursing Home Penalties and Oversight

Jul 16, 2015


Charles Ornstein and Lena Groeger of ProPublica wrote an article outlining the disparities in nursing home penalties and oversight as they vary state-by-state.

Two separate instances of nursing home negligence were investigated: One instance was in Texas, while the other similar situation occurred in South Carolina.

In 2012 at a nursing home in Hughes Springs, Texas, a resident approached the nurses’ station while choking on a cookie. It was found that the nursing home staff was not trained for emergencies and did not immediately call 911 for help. Attempts to clear the resident’s pathway failed, and he passed away as a result.

In the months prior to this Texas nursing home death, a resident at a North Augusta, South Carolina nursing home died after having removed her own breathing tube. The resident had a history of pulling out her breathing tube, and inspectors who investigated the death reported that the facility failed in taking appropriate measures to prevent the patient from harming herself.

Varying Nursing Home Penalties by State

In both Texas and South Carolina, inspectors for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (commonly referred to as “CMS”) cited the homes for failure to operate “in an acceptable way that maintains the well-being of each resident.” According to inspectors, both nursing homes posed immediate jeopardy to residents.

The nursing home penalties associated with each of these incidents are in stark contrast to one another. In the Texas case, at the recommendation of state officials, CMS fined the Hughes Springs nursing home with a $9,500 fee. In the South Carolina case, CMS fined the North Augusta nursing home with a $303, 370 penalty.

According to the article, these disparities are not that unusual. ProPublica has created a tool to make it easier to spot out the differences among states in finding serious violations and handing out fines.

Click here to view the ProPublica’s State by State breakdown of total deficiencies and average fines.

According to ProPublica’s tool, as of October 2014, Texas had 25,998 deficiencies amongst 1,215 nursing homes with an average of $15,361 in fines. To compare, Tennessee had the highest in average fines of $117, 894 with only 6,028 instances of deficiencies.  California and Texas have the most number of certified nursing facilities in the country.

The Big Issue: Nursing Home Penalties and Oversight

Nursing home penalties and oversight are a pervasive problem in the United States. With over 15,700 nursing homes in America and 1.4 million residents, the number of nursing home deaths continue to increase. According to the National Institutes of Health, the proportion of U.S. deaths occurring in nursing homes is expected to reach 40% by 2020. In fact, it has been reported that the elderly are abused at 1 in 3 nursing homes. This includes purely serious physical, sexual,  and verbal abuse, not necessarily negligent actions and conduct, inadequate staffing, or other factors that may lead to serious injury or death in nursing homes.

With some nursing home penalties equating to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and oversight at facilities continuing to take place, the health and safety of the elderly population seems to be taking a backseat.

That is why it is important to speak with a nursing home abuse or elderly abuse attorney in order to determine your loved one’s legal rights.

Additional Resources

Obama Administration Proposes New Rules to Modernize Nursing Home Safety