Nursing Homes Getting Away with Infection Control Lapses


Many of the nation’s nursing homes are routinely ignoring the basics of hygiene and infection prevention including washing hands and preventing nurses and nursing aides that are ill from coming to work. Despite putting their residents’ health in danger through their negligent behavior, these homes have escaped punishment. This is according to an analysis of federal inspection records by Kaiser Health News.

Cited for health violations

The Kaiser Health News analysis of four years or records showed that more than 74% of nursing homes in the country had been cited by health inspectors for lapses in practices for infection control. The analysis also revealed that this was the most common health violation for which the nursing homes were cited.

Despite repeated citation of many nursing homes, disciplinary actions including fines have been rare. Only 1 in 75 homes that was found deficient in their infection prevention practices was given a high level citation that could result in a financial penalty.

Many nursing homes receive low level warnings for infection control lapses year after year. These warnings do not result in any punishment to the nursing home. As a result, the nursing homes have learned to ignore these warnings.

Spread of infections

Many of the infections spreading among residents of nursing homes are avoidable. These infections are responsible for a quarter of the medical injuries reported by Medicare beneficiaries in nursing homes. These infections are also amongst the most common reasons residents from nursing homes are sent back to hospitals for treatment.

The spread of microorganisms resistant to antibiotics has been of particular concern. While Medicare has begun imposing penalties on hospitals for high rates of infections by particular microorganisms, there has been no similar action against nursing homes.

This is particularly disturbing considering that many elderly patients are now leaving the hospital before they are fully recuperated to spend their recovery period in nursing homes. These patients are weak and often more susceptible to infection. Many need ventilators to assist them in breathing and others have surgical wounds that are healing. These two conditions alone make them more likely to get an infection.

Costly errors

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are responsible for inspection of nursing homes. That agency has admitted to requiring nursing homes to put in place better systems aimed at preventing the spread of infections. However, the agency does not believe that it has skimped on penalties for these nursing homes.

If we want to keep elderly nursing home residents healthy and safe, the state and federal regulators need to take more aggressive action now. Otherwise, the nursing homes will continue to ignore the problem and more residents will be harmed.

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