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New Nursing Home Rules Announced

March 16, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ State inspectors will have to investigate complaints of harm to nursing home residents more quickly under new federal rules announced Tuesday.

``The complaint process ... was not working as well as it should be,″ said Nancy-Ann DeParle, administrator of the agency that oversees federal dollars going to nursing homes. ``In some states, complaints can sit there for weeks, even months.″

As a remedy, DeParle said, state inspection agencies were informed in a letter sent Tuesday that they must now respond within 10 days to any complaint alleging harm to nursing home residents. In the past, inspectors had to meet a two-day deadline only in situations meeting the graver standard of posing ``immediate jeopardy″ to a resident.

Families of nursing home residents and other advocates for the elderly and disabled have brought attention to the problem, DeParle said. An audit by the government’s General Accounting Office, expected out later this week, raises similar concerns and a congressional hearing has been scheduled later this month, say those who have seen it.

DeParle said new posters, pamphlets and videos will help educate nursing home residents and their families about the new standards and how to file complaints.

``It’s not just physically hurting someone,″ she said. ``It could also be things like not providing proper nutrition.″

The educational materials are to be in nursing homes by May.

The new complaint guidelines are the latest step in a campaign President Clinton announced last summer to improve enforcement of nursing home standards.

Other steps include immediate fines of up to $10,000 for serious violations of health and safety standards. In the past, nursing homes got time to correct such problems before being subject to fines.

The government also has posted nursing homes’ individual inspection records on the Internet and is requiring more frequent, surprise inspections of homes with a history of serious violations.

Clinton’s fiscal year 2000 budget asks Congress for an additional $60 million to help pay for the efforts. While states are primarily responsible for inspecting nursing homes and recommending sanctions, they get money for those activities from the federal government.

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