Making the decision to put a parent in a nursing home is often heart-wrenching. Once the decision has been made though, you will face the difficult task of finding the right nursing home for your parent. Given some of the horror stories you have likely heard or read about, you may be reluctant to trust any facility with your parent’s care. Your concern is certainly justified given the number of complaints and violations nursing homes get each year across the United States. If a bill introduced in Illinois passes, one avenue to complain about problems in nursing homes will be shut down. The bill, introduced earlier this year, would ban anonymous complaints about nursing homes.
Who Oversees Nursing Homes in Illinois?
In the State of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is responsible for licensing, regulating, and inspecting the state’s approximately 1,200 long-term care facilities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) also has overlapping jurisdiction over nursing homes in Illinois. IDPH is also responsible for investigating complaints relating to quality of care issues, such as allegations of actual or potential harm to patients, patient rights, infection control, and medication errors. Along with complaints based on allegations of harm or potential harm due to an unsafe physical (building) environment.
Filing a Complaint about a Nursing Home in Illinois
Currently, the IDPH accepts complaints relating to nursing home by phone, mail, or fax. Although they encourage complainants to provide contact information, it is not currently required when making a complaint unless the complainant wants to receive written notification of receipt of the complaint and notification of the outcome of the complaint investigation.
How Would H.B. 5601 Change the Current Law?
H.B. 5601, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Mike Unes (R), would amend the state’s Nursing Home Care Act to require identifying information from people filing complaints about neglect or abuse in a nursing home. In other words, no more anonymous complaints if the bill passes. The bill calls for identifying information about a complainant to be kept confidential by the IDPH; however, nursing home investigators would be able to contact people who filed complaints for further information. The bill is currently up for debate in the State House of Representatives.
Last year, approximately 5,600 complaints were filed against long-term care facilities in the State of Illinois. Of those, close to 20 percent, or about 1,100, were filed anonymously. The bill’s sponsor, Rep, Unes, believes that prohibiting anonymous calls will prevent false reports mad against facilities that are only made to harass the facility. He also feels that by forcing complainants to provide identifying information it will “help the state punish and fine negligent nursing homes for bad behavior,”
Understandably, not everyone agrees with Rep. Unes. Advocates argue the proposed legislation doesn’t take into account the “health and vulnerability of the employees, residents and family members who may file a complaint.” Along with requiring people to provide identifying information when they file a complaint against a nursing home in the future, the bill would also require anyone accepting a complaint to inform the complainant of possible criminal sanctions they face for filing false reports. Sanctions are already in place for false reports. Opponents of the bill argue that requiring people to be informed of the potential sanctions when they file complaints may make them nervous or intimidated.
“They want people not to file complaints,” said Wendy Meltzer, executive director of Illinois Citizens for Better Care. On the other side of the debate, Matt Hartman, vice president of public policy for the Illinois Health Care Association countered “If you have a legitimate concern about a loved one, you have nothing to fear.”
Nursing Home Abuse – Facts and Figures
Whether the Illinois bill makes it through or not, the fact remains that nursing home abuse and neglect remains a real, and growing, problem in the United States. Consider the following facts ad figures:
- For every one case of elder abuse reported, at least 20 other instances go unreported
- One recent study found that 30 percent of all nursing homes had been reported for 9000 instances of abuse or neglect over a two-year period.
- Approximately 10 percent of all older Americans are abused or neglected each year.
- 44 percent of nursing home residents are abused each year
- 95 percent of nursing home residents reported being neglected or seeing someone else being neglected.