Harmful Nursing Homes Largely Escape Penalties, Report Finds

Nursing homes with a long history of harming patients are not being held accountable for the poor care they provide, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

'Some of these homes repeatedly harmed residents over a six-year period and yet remain in the Medicare and Medicaid programs,' said the report.

Despite a law passed in 1987 establishing stringent federal standards for nursing homes, investigators found that Bush administration officials rarely use their authority to deny Medicare or Medicaid payments to facilities that provide poor-quality care and typically impose fines far less than the maximum of $10,000 a day.

Instead, the Bush administration has been allowing homes a grace period to improve conditions, which allows them to cycle in and out of compliance with federal standards for years.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) called the study's conclusions 'very discouraging.'

Administration officials said they feared that patients could lose access to care if they abruptly withdrew federal support, although they did promise to post information on the Web showing which nursing homes had been punished for providing substandard care.

To download the GAO report, "Nursing Homes: Efforts to Strengthen Federal Enforcement Have Not Deterred Some Homes from Repeatedly Harming Residents," click here.

For an article on the GAO report in The New York Times, click here.