If your pulse quickens whenever industry slips the chains of oppressive over-regulation, then maybe you’re cheering President Donald Trump’s latest triumph over oversight. But if you also have parents who are elderly, or someday hope to be, then maybe you’re not so delighted.
News that the nursing home industry will be even more lightly monitored now puts people who often can’t speak up for themselves in more physical danger. And the Trump administration’s recent decision to severely limit the fines imposed on facilities where the level of care is already jeopardizing the health and safety of their residents is especially alarming in a state such as Kansas.
We’ve written before that state inspectors have found residents at serious risk in one out of three Kansas nursing homes. The situation elsewhere isn’t encouraging, either, but that’s the fourth-worst showing in the country. Mitzi McFatrich, director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said the changes roll back the hard-won victory of reform legislation passed 30 years ago, in 1987.
The nursing home lobby in Kansas had pushed back against the fines and said findings of widespread problems mostly reflected overzealous inspections by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
That claim would be laughable if the lives of vulnerable people weren’t on the line. Laughable, that is, because one-third of the state’s 60 jobs for inspectors remain unfilled. And because under Gov. Sam Brownback, a series of former nursing home administrators and lobbyists have been appointed to senior positions in the supposedly overzealous department in charge of oversight. A September report from the Office of Inspector General found the state’s nursing home inspectors didn’t even follow up on about half of the problems they found in 2014.
Still, a March letter from the national nursing home lobby to then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price complained of the “sad reality” that “long-term care is being strangled” by “over-regulation.” They asked for relief and got it. Under the new guidelines, even problems that result in a death won’t necessarily trigger a fine. Last month, the administration also announced an 18-month suspension of fines for violating new safety rules meant to reduce the overuse of psychotropic drugs.
All of this is in keeping with Trump’s promise to do away with regulations of all kinds. He’s already overturned rules on everything from flood building standards for federal infrastructure projects to anti-dumping rules that banned coal companies from polluting local streams. Environmental damage is getting easier to see all the time, and the response to these changes has rightly been fierce.
But the fact that there’s so weak an outcry on behalf of the elderly makes us wonder if even not-yet-incapacitated older Americans, who do have political capital, prefer not to think about those living out of sight in nursing homes. “Nobody wants to think about being in such a compromised position and dependent,’’ said McFatrich. If we did, we might see that leaving frail seniors unprotected could be the death of us, too.