A D.C. City Council member introduced a bill yesterday that would require the District government to inspect nursing homes at the request of patients or their representatives and to levy fines of up to $5,000 a day to force improvements.
Under the bill introduced by council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), the city would be required to make unannounced inspections of the homes within 15 days of a patient's request, or explain in writing why an inspection is unnecessary.
If the inspection revealed serious violations, the city would be required to impose fines ranging from $100 to $5,000 a day for uncorrected violations.
"It puts some outside pressure on the licensing department in the District," said Mike Schuster, an attorney for Legal Counsel for the Elderly, a citizen group funded by government contracts and the American Association of Retired Persons. "It's a very important bill because we're not always confident that the department follows through on serious violations."
The city's regulations for the operation of the 1,255 health and social service facilities in the District contain administrative remedies for violations. The Shackleton bill would impose fines for uncorrected violations of the laws.
"The city has only had the threat of closing a facility," said Jon Fenton, counsel for the City Council's Committee on Human Resources, which Shackleton chairs. "This often is not a realistic one to impose when facility operators know the city needs bed space."
Shackleton said the measure was needed because "recent events" show city health licensing enforcement is weak and some residents in local facilities suffer as a result.
The Post reported last month on the lax monitoring of the homes by the city's Service Facility Regulation Administration, a part of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Earlier, The Post reported on a series of scalding incidents, nursing home deaths and poor conditions in several facilities for aged residents.
Under Shackleton's bill, if a home attempted to transfer or discharge a resident within a year after the resident asked for an inspection, it would be considered retaliation and the home would be fined up to $10,000.
The measure also would allow the mayor to take over the management of deficiency-ridden facilities.
Francis Bowie, director of the Service Facility Regulation Administration, said she had not seen the bill and had no comment. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs supports a bill that imposes fines but makes no changes in how homes are inspected.
David Rivers, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, which runs several deficiency-plagued nursing facilities, opposed fining city facilities when the concept was introduced in 1983. Spokesman Charles Siegel said Rivers had no comment on whether he now supports such penalties.
Hearings on Shackleton's bill are scheduled for next month.