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Public Statements

Letter to The Honorable Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services

U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) today sent the following letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt, calling on him to immediately release a list of 128 nursing homes that are being scrutinized for providing poor care. According to press accounts, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) identified these facilities because of their history of consistent violations of health and safety regulations, such as improper medical care, preventable falls and accidents, serious neglect, and physical abuse. To date, the Department has identified only 54 of these facilities, refusing to disclose the names of the other 74 facilities, thereby potentially endangering the health and safety of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR) also signed the letter.

In the letter, the nine senators also called on Leavitt to provide clear guidance to state nursing home inspection agencies as to whether they are permitted to release such information to the public. Last week, Obama sent a similar letter to Leavitt, vowing to pursue legislative action if this information is not released; Obama has not yet received a response to that letter.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Leavitt:

We are writing to express our serious objections to the withholding of critical information about nursing home conditions from America's senior citizens.

An estimated 1.5 million residents live in approximately 16,000 nursing homes in the United States. This year, federal, state, and local governments will spend $82 billion on nursing home care, of which $56.5 billion will come from the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid. All nursing homes that receive federal funding are subject to federal regulation and annual inspections. Under federal law, these inspections are a matter of public record and are made available to nursing home residents and their family members, and summaries of the inspection reports are posted on your department's Nursing Home Compare website (www.medicare.gov/NHCompare).

These federal inspection and public disclosure requirements ensure that nursing home residents are receiving the high quality of care that they deserve. Given the importance of protecting one of our nation's most vulnerable populations, we were disturbed to learn that your department is withholding information about some of the worst-performing nursing homes in the country.

According to press accounts, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has compiled a list of 128 "special focus facilities" that are among the worst-performing nursing homes in the country. These facilities are ones that have consistently been cited for serious violations of health and safety regulations - violations such as improper medical care, preventable falls and accidents, pressure sores, serious neglect, and physical abuse. If these violations are not corrected, the facility could be subject to penalties and termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

However, of the 128 worst-performing facilities, only 54 of these nursing homes have been publicly identified. The remaining 74 facilities have not been disclosed to the public, even though this information would be invaluable not only to current residents of those facilities but also to potential residents and their family members. It is incomprehensible why the complete list of 128 facilities - which is determined on the basis of publicly available inspection reports - would not be made public.

Although the names of the 128 "special focus facilities" have not been made available to the public, press accounts suggest that the complete list has been provided to the American Health Care Association, the main lobbying organization for the nursing home industry. Providing information about poorly performing nursing homes to the lobbyists who represent those facilities, and not to the senior citizens who would most benefit from this information, is outrageous.

There is also some uncertainty among state inspection agencies as to whether states have the right to release the names of the previously undisclosed "special focus facilities." Following recent press stories, the Iowa inspection agency released the names of the five Iowa facilities on the list, yet Texas officials have said they cannot release this information without permission from CMS.

Accordingly, we call on you to immediately release the names of all 128 "special focus facilities" or at the very least, provide clear guidance to state nursing home inspection agencies that they are permitted to release such information to the public. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
Tom Harkin
Edward Kennedy
Dick Durbin
Jeff Bingaman
Joseph Lieberman
Evan Bayh
Bernard Sanders
Ron Wyden


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