ALBANY — The state has failed to issue stiff fines against nursing homes for the most common health and safety violations and has taken months and sometimes years to levy sanctions for more serious concerns, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
DiNapoli’s audit released Monday concluded that the state Health Department’s policies and practices fail to act as a deterrent against prolonged or repeat violations. DiNapoli blamed a misallocation of staff, resources and policies that include choosing not to levy fines for 85 percent of the most common violations and taking an average of nearly four years to act on a case.
“This trend has recently worsened, taking the teeth out of a significant deterrent to unsafe practices and conditions,” DiNapoli said. He said lesser violations allowed to continue unabated could turn into more serious health threats.
Auditors found that while the Health Department issued $628,000 in fines through 62 orders in 2011, that amount dropped to $148,000 in fines through 10 orders in 2014, the most recent full year of data.
The auditors, however, also found the Health Department completed its inspections of nursing homes as required and acted quickly on matters that threatened the health of residents.
“A new enforcement process was implemented by the DOH Nursing Home Division in April 2015 and we are continuing to work to ensure that fines are assessed in a timely manner,” the Health Department said.
DiNapoli’s report found that from January 2007 to May 2015, the 37 nursing homes in Nassau County had 3,390 violations, 91 of which were considered major deficiencies. During that period, Suffolk County’s 45 nursing homes had 3,644 violations, 119 of which were considered major deficiencies. The only counties with more violations were Erie County with 43 nursing homes and 3,800 violations, 87 of which were major deficiencies; and Queens with 60 nursing homes, 3,773 violations and 123 major deficiencies.
DiNapoli announced the audit with several advocates of the 96,495 New Yorkers in the state’s 631 private and nonprofit nursing homes.
“The fines, if they are imposed at all, are negligible,” said Jack Kupferman, president of the Gray Panthers-New York City Network. “They are almost worthless.”
DiNapoli said another reason to levy fines is that the revenue goes into a state Health Department fund that funds improvements in living conditions for nursing home residents.