According to an inspector with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the state of Maryland leads the nation in serious complaint reports regarding its nursing homes. The state has also failed to look into an estimated 650 allegations of harm to residents with the mandatory ten-day window. Cases involving “immediate jeopardy” to a patient require a response within two days, while “high priority” cases require ten. Analysts report that it’s much harder to legitimize cases when investigations are not followed up with in a timely manner.
“That’s a real problem in terms of addressing some of the priority issues residents are facing in these facilities,” said Lori O. Smetanka, Executive Director of National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. “It’s critical that agencies look at the resources they have available and…do whatever they can to get there in time.”
Maryland also ranked one of the worst states in the country for timely investigations of serious, high-level complaints – seventh worst on the list, to be exact. Maryland, Arizona, New York and Tennessee all account for nearly half of such complaints, and Maryland’s average response time, according to documentation filed last year regarding 2015, is 47 days from when these complaints are initially reported.
The state listed 232 licensed nursing homes overall in 2015, and 1,164 complaint reports were identified during that year. Maryland indicated that less than one percent of its complaints were in the “immediate jeopardy” category in 2015 whereas three-quarters of the complaints were listed as “high priority.”
The Maryland Health Department primarily blamed its issues on staff shortages. A spokesperson with the agency said the administration of Governor Larry Hogan “remains committed to investigating the complaints about nursing homes and other facilities” nevertheless. In its annual report filed last year, the department stated that it has never “been adequately staffed to complete our mandates.” In addressing the concern of not responding within the allotted timeframe, the Health Department claimed, “the length of time to initiate an on-site investigation is directly proportional to the number of trained…nurse surveyors.”
Joseph DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, said he feels state regulators are “very engaged,” and nursing homes allege state “professionals are in centers frequently.” DeMattos also noted that investigators are required to respond to complaints even when they ultimately turn out to be frivolous and unfounded, which essentially is a waste of time and valuable resources.
“The latest data in the report is from 2015,” DeMattos said. “I believe the industry, both in Maryland and across the nation, is making strides every day to provide quality care.”
The state is “making strides” despite an increase in the overall number of complaints in a four-year span from 2011 to 2015. The countrywide number of complaint increased 33 percent during this time with Maryland’s number increasing by seven percent.
Kate Ricks, vice chairwoman of the advocacy group Voices for Quality Care said of Maryland’s staffing issues, “We have said to them every year, they need more people. They don’t have enough. They’ve never had enough. It’s not the staff that is there, it’s just that there’s not enough of them.” Until the shortage is resolved, problems will prevail.