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Auditor General to follow up on nursing home report

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Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is planning to check in with the state Department of Health to see if the agency is following his 2016 recommendations to improve overssight of Pennsylvania nursing homes.

In a 2016 audit, which covered 2014 and 2015, DePasquale made 23 recommendations to the health department after finding that the department inadequately reviewed nurse-staffing levels, violated Medicare and Medicaid services’ policy by not offering anonymous complaints to residents, and failed to sanction nursing homes that should have been.

The auditor general’s office announced that over the next three months it will be working on a follow-up report on the findings from two years ago.

"All of this is about protecting the patient. I am hopeful that every single recommendation is either done or in the process of getting done," DePasquale said.

DePasquale said he reserves the right to ask additional questions even if they were not touched on in the additional audit.

"We have the jurisdiction on a follow-up report to look at what we did last time," he said. "We always have the right in an audit to add on additional levels."

The original audit found, for example, that the health department had used inconsistent methods to track how much nursing care was given to residents by averaging care time over a week instead of by day. Pennsylvania nursing home residents are required to receive a minimum of 2.7 hours of direct nursing care per day

The audit said plummeting staffing led to the amount of hours of care given to residents falling below the state minimum.

"My 2016 audit also found that adequate staffing levels directly impact the quality of care provided to 90,000 Pennsylvanians, more than the population of Lancaster and Johnstown combined, who live in nursing homes," DePasquale said in a statement.

The audit also revealed that from 2012 to 2015, the department failed to provide anonymity to residents who made complaints. The department began to provide anonymity again during the audit, and the number of complaints increased by 63 percent.

"For three years, DOH risked nursing home residents’ safety by ignoring anonymous complaints," DePasquale said in a 2016 press release.

Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Department of Health, said that the department welcomes the auditor’s review of the progress it has made on its oversight of nursing homes.

"There have been improvements made since his 2016 audit and we are continuing to work to ensure safe care is provided to those living in nursing homes in Pennsylvania," Wardle said.

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Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis covers health care and Lancaster County. Email him at ipashakis@cpbj.com.

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