WASHINGTON, April 21 — Federal health officials impose only minimal penalties on nursing homes repeatedly cited for mistreatment of patients, Congressional investigators say in a new report.
As a result, they said, some nursing homes cycle in and out of compliance with federal standards and pose a continued threat to the health and safety of patients.
“Some of these homes repeatedly harmed residents over a six-year period and yet remain in the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” said the report, to be issued next week by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress.
The Department of Health and Human Services “fails to hold homes with a long history of harming residents accountable for the poor care provided,” the investigators said.
Congress established stringent standards for nursing homes in 1987. In 1998, the G.A.O. reported that “homes can repeatedly harm residents without facing sanctions.” Since then, President Bill Clinton, President Bush and the nursing home industry have announced many initiatives to improve care.
But in its new report, the accountability office says that little seems to have changed at the worst-performing homes. The Bush administration rarely uses its authority to deny payment to homes with a history of compliance problems and typically imposes fines far less than the maximum of $10,000 a day, the report said.
In Michigan, federal investigators found that a nursing home was still open even though it had repeatedly been cited for “poor quality care,” poor nutrition services, medication errors and employing people who had been convicted of abusing patients.