Nursing Facilities Face Investigation

In response to continuing reports of deaths, abuse, and substandard care at long-term nursing facilities, the Senate Finance Committee has opened an investigation. The company in the spotlight is Select Medical Corporation, a for-profit long-term care provider with 89 facilities in 26 states, including North Carolina. (They own Select Specialty Hospitals in Durham and Winston-Salem.)

The investigation will focus on the deaths and poor treatment of seriously ill patients. According to a an article in the New York Times, these hospitals treat 200,000 patients each year, but rarely have full-time physicians on staff. In one particularly disturbing example, a dying patient’s heart alarm sounded for 77 minutes before nurses responded.

I think we can all recognize that this is horrendous care, but some people may wonder why the government would bother to get involved…and why the Senate Finance Committee. The answer comes down to funding.

The [Senate Finance] committee has substantial power over long-term care hospitals because it oversees Medicare. The federal program spends almost $5 billion annually on the hospitals, providing about 60 percent of their total revenue. (quoted from the New York Times article by Alex Berenson.)

While it is always heartening to see investigations into specific companies that are doing wrong, it looks like this particular issue may have widespread benefits for all of us:

In a separate letter, the senators asked that the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative agency, examine federal and state oversight of all long-term care hospitals, saying that they worried the facilities might expose patients “to an unreasonable risk of harm.”

Finally…hope for reform, from Medicare on down!

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