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CLS Report Shows PA Department of Health’s Failure To Protect Nursing Home Residents

Aging and Disabilities

CLS Report Shows PA Department of Health’s Failure To Protect Nursing Home Residents

Today, Community Legal Services (CLS) released a report titled “Careless: How the Pennsylvania Department of Health has Risked the Lives of Elderly and Disabled Nursing Home Residents,” which details how over the past several years the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) failed to properly enforce federal and state regulations, putting elderly and disabled Pennsylvanians at risk of physical harm or death.

CLS frequently represents nursing home residents in matters relating to the preservation and protection of their rights.  Over the past several years, under the previous governor’s administration, CLS has witnessed DOH significantly decrease its enforcement of nursing home regulations and patient protections.  The report shares an analysis of nursing home complaints and inspections for the 46 nursing homes in the city of Philadelphia conducted  by the Department of Health from 2012-2014.

In an in-depth review of data available from DOH concerning Philadelphia nursing homes, CLS has found that from 2012 through 2014 DOH:

  • Dismissed 92% of complaints filed by residents or other individuals as unfounded.
  • Routinely mischaracterized the severity and breadth of violations, which, in addition to harming nursing home residents, misinformed members of the general public who were looking for safe nursing homes.
  • Conducted 161 follow-up visits after finding a violation, and never once found that a violation persisted, despite the unlikelihood that every violation was remedied immediately.

Sam Brooks, an attorney with Community Legal Services, said, “Community Legal Services analyzed nursing home data after hearing repeatedly hearing from  residents or their family member whose complaints to DOH were going nowhere. When we looked at the data we were shocked to find that so many complaints were dismissed and that DOH appeared to not be enforcing regulations. This disregard for patient safety is unacceptable and must be remedied.”

The issues discussed in the report are not limited to Philadelphia; they are prevalent across the state of Pennsylvania. As the report shows, statewide enforcement actions against Pennsylvania nursing facilities have dropped dramatically in recent years.  The decrease in enforcement actions is partly due to DOH sending guidance to all Pennsylvania nursing home administrators that they will no longer be required to report certain events, including falls with injuries, other injuries and accidents, and mishaps with life-sustaining equipment.

The report also details how DOH failed to correctly classify patient deaths, elopements (residents, often with dementia, wandering from the facility), and injuries. This failure not only harms nursing home residents, but also causes harm to the general public because it results in incomplete and inaccurate data being used by people trying to select nursing homes for themselves and their loved ones.

Added Community Legal Services attorney Sam Brooks, “The public is being misled by the Department of Health’s failure to properly investigate complaints and enforce regulations. Choosing a nursing home is a serious decision, but when the Department of Health fails in its enforcement role , the public does not learn  about serious problems with nursing homes such as  abuse and neglect.  The result is that Pennsylvanians are choosing nursing homes  they think provide a high quality of care, when in reality many of these facilities receive repeated complaints and are seriously violating federal and state laws.”

The report, which also provides recommendations to fix Pennsylvania’s nursing home crisis, can be found online at