December 6, 2007
The Honorable Michael Leavitt
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Secretary Leavitt:
I am writing to express my 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, I was 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 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; one of these facilities is in my home state of Illinois. 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 and yet another example of how this Administration has placed the corporate interest before the public interest.
I call on you to immediately release the names of all 128 "special focus facilities." If you refuse to do so, I will pursue all possible legislative actions to compel the release of this information. Please notify my office by Thursday, December 13, 2007, as to whether you will comply with this request.
United States Senator