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$1.2M for oversight of nursing homes

HARRISBURG — State health officials unveiled plans Tuesday to beef up nursing home oversight with the help of $1.2 million from the settlement of a case against a nursing home chain.

The Department of Health plans to hire more employees and write new regulations in order to implement the recommendations of a task force examining ways to improve care at the more than 700 nursing homes in Pennsylvania, said Health Secretary Karen Murphy, R.N., Ph.D., a Scranton native.

The new rules will reflect a changing role for nursing homes that now provide care not only for long-term residents, but also those staying for shorter periods to recuperate from operations and hospitalizations.

State Attorney General Bruce Beemer said a large portion of a $2 million settlement with Reliant Senior Care Holding Inc. will go to underwrite the department’s regulatory changes. Reliant made the $2 million payment to settle allegations it misled consumers by failing to provide basic services to nursing home residents — a violation of the state Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

An investigation by the attorney general’s office revealed that Reliant made promises about providing a level of care, but failed to do so by leaving its facilities understaffed, said Mr. Beemer, a Clarks Summit native.

From 2012 to the present, Reliant allegedly limited the number of certified aides at its facilities, making them incapable of delivering basic care, the attorney general’s office said. This includes activities like eating and drinking, dressing, showering and daily hygiene.

The Reliant chain, now operating as Priority Healthcare Group, has run 22 skilled nursing facilities in Pennsylvania, including Creekside Health and Rehabilitation Center in Carbondale, Lakeside Health and Rehabilitation Center in Dallas and Butler Valley Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center in Drums.

The Reliant case is separate from an ongoing lawsuit filed by the attorney general’s office two years ago against a chain of nursing homes owned by Golden Living National Senior Care LLC, Mr. Beemer said.

The Golden Living lawsuit concerning issues of inadequate care prompted the health department to undertake the first major overhaul of nursing home oversight since 1999.

The department plans to focus on:

■ Enacting regulations or legislation to implement the task force recommendations.

■ Expanding nursing home inspections to focus on quality of life issues.

■ Improving surveys in order to evaluate quality of life at homes.

The Department of Aging will play an oversight role through its ombudsman program, said Secretary Teresa Osborne, a Scranton native.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said it agrees with the goals in the task force report.

But PHCA President Russell McDaid said there are times when state and federal regulations are in direct conflict with or limit a nursing homes’s ability to provide quality care.

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