Pennsylvania Senators unveil bipartisan nursing home reform bill

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators are teaming up in a bipartisan effort to create more scrutiny and provide more help for troubled nursing homes.

Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, unveiled new legislation today which would expand federal oversight of the worst-performing facilities in the country.

“This is actually a carrot and stick approach,” Casey told channel 11′s Angie Moreschi. “Helping nursing homes that are poor performers to get better with more educational support and consultation help; but also, being tough on enforcement and regulation.”

The proposed bill comes as a COVID surge is causing deaths to climb once again at our nation’s nursing homes.

“Two of every three Pennsylvanians to die from COVID-19 were residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” Toomey said. “Unfortunately, some of the largest outbreaks occurred in facilities with records of persistent failure to protect their residents.”

However, Casey stressed the need for this legislation predates the COVID crisis.

“The horror of COVID has caused people to reexamine this issue, but this is actually separate from the pandemic. We saw some of these problems long before the pandemic,” Casey said.

Bipartisan Effort

This is not the first time the senators have joined forces to address nursing home reform. In July 2019, they sent a joint letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, prompting the agency to release a long secret list of poor-performing facilities nationwide. Prior to the Senators' intervention, only about 80 of the most troubled facilities—called Special Focus Facilities-- were revealed publicly, despite hundreds more with similar poor records.

“It made no sense before that you had maybe 500 qualifying, but only 88 getting the attention,” Casey said.

This legislation would expand that oversight program to provide more inspections and resources for all of those low-rated facilities, not just some of them. The bill proposes that 3.5% of the worst-performing facilities nationwide be designated low-rated facilities that receive extra scrutiny.

“We need to make sure if you have 500 low-rated facilities, they need to get a lot of focus. That means more inspections, more reviews, but also more help,” Casey said.

The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2020 is expected to be taken up when the new Congress convenes next year.