Disability Advocate Claims Iowa Governor Putting Nursing Home Residents At Risk

Disability Rights Iowa, a part of a national network of advocacy groups established by Congress, just published a derisive, open letter to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad questioning his plan to seek a less punitive method of regulating the state’s nursing homes. Disability Rights Iowa says the governor’s decisions are killing Iowa <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/nursing_home_negligence">nursing home residents and causing them great suffering, said the Des Moines Register.

Sylvia Piper, Disability Rights Iowa’s executive director, said to Branstad, in the letter, that it was due to his “political choices” that “people are suffering and dying on a regular basis in Iowa’s nursing homes.” Piper also asked Branstad to join her on a two-day tour of nursing home facilities, said the Des Moines Register.

“I want you to see what I have seen,” she wrote. “I want you to witness up close the effects of abuse and neglect. I wager that less than 24 hours after our return, if you are even remotely human, you will double the number of nursing home inspectors on your staff,” she added, the Des Moines Register reported.

Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad said that the state’s inspections department, now led by former state lawmaker Rod Roberts, is doing “great work…. Gov. Branstad is proud of the work Rod Roberts has done to correct the mismanagement of the previous director at the Department of Inspections and Appeals,” Albrecht said. “Due to choices made prior to Gov. Branstad taking office, the department’s Health Facilities Division was facing a significant budget shortfall,” wrote the Des Moines Register.

Roberts has no prior management experience, but was chosen by Branstad to replace Dean Lerner as the head of the inspections department, said the Des Moines Register. The department oversees health care facilities in Iowa. Earlier this year, Roberts cut 10 nursing home inspectors and two abuse prosecutor positions, blaming budget constraints; however, after lawmakers restored funding for the positions, the department spent the money in different areas, saying the inspectors were unnecessary.

“Spending wasn’t cut, and the legislature’s intent—protecting nursing home residents—was blatantly ignored,” Piper wrote in her letter to Branstad. Piper also criticized Branstad for saying he did not remember how his administration’s nursing home oversight was criticized during his first gubernatorial term (1983 to 1999). How state inspections were run and his administration’s failure to penalize facilities, even in cases of death, were questioned, said the Des Moines Register.

“Certainly a man possessed of any intellectual horsepower at all would remember criticism so scathing,” Piper wrote. “During your campaign, you said you want inspectors to be more collaborative with nursing home operators, to not be so tough on them even though it is their responsibility to regulate them according to the law. That is akin to asking correctional officers in our state penitentiaries to be more collaborative with the state’s most violent offenders, to partner up, to go easy on them, for heaven’s sake,” she added, according to the Des Moines Register.

We recently wrote that a 2009 Congressional report revealed that over 30 percent of all nursing homes in the United States—5,283—received citations for abuse violations from January 1999 to January 2001. The homes racked up nearly 9,000 violations; the violations were such that there was the potential for harm, said the report entitled: “US House of Representatives: Abuse of Residents is A Major Problem in US Nursing Homes.” Of the violations in the report’s prior two year period, 2,500 were significant and could cause harm or could place residents in “immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury,” the report said, pointing out that about 10 percent of U.S. nursing homes received citations for abuse violations that resulted in real harm, or worse.

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