According to the New York State Comptroller, New York needs to change how it fines nursing homes in violation of state law. Currently the laws are failing to protect some of the most vulnerable in society, the elderly. New York has a large elderly population living in nursing homes, with more than 95,000 of citizens being over the age of 65 and living in one of the state’s 61 nursing homes.
The Decline in Fines and the Increase in Collection Times
Despite this large segment of the population, the statistics show a worsening trend in terms of fines collected for nursing home violations. In 2011 the New York Department of Health (DOH) collected $628,000 in fines from Nursing Homes; in 2014 that figure had declined to $152,000. Concurrently, the length of time it takes the DOH to issue a fine has dramatically increased. In 2007 the average time for issuing a fine was six months; by 2014 that time span had increased to four years.
This sharp decline in fines and processing time may be attributable to the fact that the DOH has only one part-time employee assigned to process enforcement referrals and prepare enforcement packets. Additionally, the agency routinely waits a minimum of six months before processing enforcements in the event that fine assessments are amended or withdrawn as a result of appeals. Finally, the database the DOH uses to process fines and violations is fragmented and incomplete.
To address this issue, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has called for the Department of Health to eliminate the backlog in enforcement and maintain timely processing of future assessments. Additionally, he proposes that the DOH take steps to assess fines earlier, develop a more comprehensive system to track enforcement, and possibly start assessing fines for lower level infractions (primarily for repeat offenders).
Decreased Enforcement Can Impact the Safety of Elderly Nursing Home Residents
This audit conducted by the state of New York illustrates that governments routinely ignore nursing homes’ systematic violations of the law. The lack of enforcement jeopardizes the health and safety of the elderly population.
At our firm, we see the injuries and untimely death that result to nursing home residents as the result of taking shortcuts, understaffing, failing to comply with the law, and failing follow standard procedures. Nursing home fines are not inconsequential; in many cases, they are an indication that much more severe problems exist.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a nursing home due to negligence or neglect, I would invite you to call our firm to learn how we can help.