Members of an Arizona Senate panel conducting a “sunset” review on the Arizona Department of Health Services’ future on Nov. 7, 2019, narrowly voted to allow the state agency to remain in existence through 2028. The dissidents of the 4-3 vote cited the department’s nursing home investigation failure as the reason for their verdict.
One of these dissidents, Senator Rebecca Rios, spoke with Arizona Republic reporters and said that the time between the revelation of the nursing home investigation failure and the time to vote on the Department of Health’s future felt too compressed. She told reporters “Can I in good conscience vote to continue any agency when these glaring issues are staring me in the face? No. Not when I know we do not have to have this vote today.”
The other dissidents, Victoria Steele and Tony Navarrete, also justified their negative votes by the fact that they lacked satisfactory answers about why the state department’s nursing home investigation failure.
According to a state auditor general’s report released in September, 2019, the nursing home investigation failure included not following up on complaints of neglect, abuse, and unsanitary living conditions. The report also concluded that these delays were putting residents at risk.
Of the 70 complaints from 2017 to 2018 reviewed in the audit, 54% had been open between six months and two and a half years without beginning an investigation. The nursing home investigation failure opened the door for witnesses to pass away or transfer elsewhere, or for evidence to disappear through the passage of time.
The report also stressed the severity of the complaints that were being ignored. Some of the complaints that were highlighted for the committee by Dot Reinhard of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office included:
- Allegations of attempted strangulation of a resident
- Accusations of inadequate staffing levels that left a resident soaking in their own urine and wearing food-stained clothes for days
- A whistleblower complaint of abuse, neglect, and unsanitary care left unchecked for nearly 8 months
- Allegations of improper medication and care following a stroke that were investigated over six months after the resident had transferred to another facility
Mrs. Reinhard told the Senate committee that out of the complaints and reports that were reviewed in the audit, 75% had failed to be investigated in a timely manner.
The nursing home investigation failure of the Arizona Department of Health comes at a time when Arizona is being seen as a hotbed of nursing home issues. Long-term care facilities, which account for less than 1% of the facilities the Arizona Department of Health Services licenses, account for over 33% of all the complaints the department receives. Nursing homes from 2017 and 2018 received 18 times more complaints than any other facility that the state health department licenses.
These combined factors have made Arizona one of the top nine states in the rate of complaints in the country at 60 or more per 1,000 nursing home residents. As the Senate committee renews this department’s lease to 2028, legislators have expressed an intention to bring the inadequacies of their nursing home investigations into issue in order to create more compelling legislation that forces the department to act quickly and decisively in the name of patient health.
For more information about nursing home abuse, its prevention, and its consequences, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Abuse and Neglect Pages.