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Federal Regulators Scale Back Penalties For Nursing Homes

The Trump administration has reduced the use of fines for nursing homes cited for patient safety violations.

The federal government is scaling back its use of fines and other penalties against nursing homes. As McKnight’s Long-Term Care News reports, the Trump administration recently decided to relax the use of “excessive fines” and discouraged local and state Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) offices from levying fines for “one-time” violations. While some worry that the reduced penalties will compromise patient safety, others contend that the high penalties meant nursing homes were becoming more concerned with ensuring they were in compliance with federal regulations rather than focusing on patients.

Reducing penalties for nursing homes

New guidelines issued by the Trump administration discourage regulators from issuing fines in certain situations involving patient harm. For example, the CMS now encourages regulators to refrain from levying fines for one-time events unless there was evidence of intentional disregard for patient safety or systemic health violations. The CMS also now discourages regulators from issuing daily fines retroactively for violations that occurred prior to an inspection and to instead focus on one-time fines.

The guidelines are a reversal from the policy of the previous administration, which favored tough penalties as a way of improving patient care. As the Washington Post reports, that policy had resulted in close to 6,500 nursing homes (equivalent to 40 percent of all such facilities in the country) being cited for violations at least once since 2013. About two-thirds of those cited were fined by CMS.

Too much focus on regulations?

Many nursing homes and healthcare providers complained that the punitive use of fines meant that federal regulators were more focused on punishing nursing homes rather than in helping them improve patient care. They also complained that excessive regulations and fines meant that nursing home staff became more interested in regulatory compliance rather than their patients’ well-being.

The use of daily fines has been particularly contentious. Some healthcare professionals complained that such fines were being applied to violations that had been remedied long before CMS regulators had discovered them. The use of such fines, critics contend, meant that nursing homes that were taking steps to improve the quality of their care were nonetheless being punished with overly punitive fines. Those fines can be extremely high, with the average being $33,453 in recent years.

Health law

While the above news provides some regulatory relief for nursing homes, fines and legal compliance concerns remain high for healthcare providers. Navigating the complex regulatory environment can be difficult, which is why healthcare providers need effective legal representation. An experienced health law firm can assist healthcare providers both with ensuring they complying with regulations and with helping them mitigate the harm that any accusations of wrongdoing may cause.

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