Audit: State agency behind on nursing home inspections

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. --There's a scathing report about how the agency in charge of investigating abuse and neglect in nursing homes isn't doing its job.

The On Your Side Investigators uncovered this very problem more than two years ago, and now the same questions have been raised by the State Comptroller's Office.

It released this Performance Audit Report for the Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities.

Among many things, auditors found the Office of Health Care Facilities isn't always conducted complaint or regular surveys on time.

Of 25 cases sampled (regarding complaint investigations) in situations where patients faced immediate jeopardy, not once did the surveyors respond on time.

In fact, there were only three times where surveyors met the time guidelines, and those were less serious complaints (non-immediate jeopardy).

WREG spoke with long-term care advocate Brian Lee, the Executive Director of Families for Better Care.

After reviewing the audit he said, "That to me shows that the state is willing to turn its back on nursing home residents who are being harmed or neglected."

Surveyors are supposed to respond to immediate jeopardy complaints within two days and those prioritized as "high" within 10.

The audit reveals the average response time for an immediate jeopardy investigation was 74 days, and in some cases, it took more than nine months.

Lee said state officials and government leaders should be ashamed.

"People die, I mean they are neglected to death in that time frame."

State law says health care facilities should be surveyed every 15 months. These are often called "regular" or "annual" surveys.

The report showed of the 25 sampled, 10 weren't inspected on time.

On average, two years pass before surveyors go back.

The audit also reveals abuse complaints weren't being handled properly.

Officials from the Office of Health Care Facilities provided responses in the audit.

It blames the lack of staff along with more complaints. The Director said since 2011-2012, the agency has seen a 50% increase in complaints, which has resulted in a backlog of complaint investigations.

In the responses, he also discussed the complicated process of training surveyors along with current staffing deficiencies.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health (which HCF falls under) told WREG earlier this year when we asked about the issue again, that surveyors spend so much time investigating complaints, that also contributes to reason regular surveys aren't always done on time.

Lee says it doesn't matter, patients deserve better protection.

"There's no excuse for this, zero tolerance for abuse or neglect and zero tolerance for these excessive time frames."

WREG requested a phone interview with the Director of the Office of Health Care Facilities. A spokesperson said officials don't plan to make any comments prior to a discussion that's supposed to take place next week before the Government Operations Committee.

The On Your Side Investigators also asked the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman's office for comment on the audit. They too refused.

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