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Tony Seaton criticizes response times of state health care department


A new report from the Tennessee State Comptroller's Office shows that the state's nursing home inspectors are failing to do what is arguably their most important job. The report, which included an audit of 25 Tennessee nursing home records, showed that investigators failed to follow up on abuse complaints in a timely manner. They also often failed to perform routine inspections and investigations.

Johnson City nursing home abuse attorney Tony Seaton echoed the criticisms that are leveled in the report. "It's unthinkable that state investigators would take so long to follow up on abuse claims," he argued. "We're talking about months passing before they look into claims. That's enough time for someone to die. Investigating these claims and preventing abuse is literally their primary responsibility."

According to the Performance Report Audit for the Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities, out of 25 cases where patients were in urgent jeopardy, investigators missed their required response time in every instance.

In urgent situations, investigators are required to respond within two days. In high level situations, they are required to respond within 10 days. The audit found that the average response time was 74 days. In some instances, response took more than nine months.

"When an elderly person is suffering abuse, nine months is virtually a lifetime," Mr. Seaton added. "Depending on their medical condition and the type of abuse they are suffering, their health and cognitive stability can deteriorate fast. What's the point of having investigators if they're going to respond so slowly?"

The audit also found that investigators were also taking two years to do routine home inspections. The state mandate is 15 months between nursing home inspections. However, the audit also revealed that many inspections aren't being done at all. Out of 25 sampled homes, 10 facilities were never inspected.

The Office of Health Care Facilities responded by saying that they had short staff and an increase in complaints. They are scheduled to discuss the matter with the state Government Operations Committee.

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