The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday announced it will conduct a “top to bottom” independent review of the state’s long-term care bureau amid delays in the bureau’s responses to complaints that longterm care residents are being neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bureau of Long-Term Care in the Office of Health Care Regulation will be the subject of the scrutiny, as an outside investigator, Manatt Health Strategies, LLC has been hired to conduct the review, which will focus on recommending best practices, according to a news release. IDPH also hired a former U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Illinois, A. Courtney Cox., to review complaints made about long-term care facilities during the pandemic.
The review is being launched after IDPH’s recent discovery that the bureau was “not properly processing and investigating complaints of abuse and neglect at long-term care facilities from approximately March 15 to June 30, 2020” the release states. IDPH officials took “appropriate personnel action” as a result of the complaint investigations, the release states.
As of Friday, 26,357 of the 215,929 total cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Illinois residents living at long-term care facilities, and 4,319 (out of 7,857 total deaths) of those residents died due to complications from the viral respiratory disease.
Complaints left unaddressed
As part of its role in regulating long-term care facilities, IDPH is required to respond to complaints regarding long-term care facilities to determine whether any federal or state laws or regulations have been violated by those facilities. IDPH receives and investigates complaints relating to a range of misconduct in long-term care facilities, including abuse and neglect, and refers any allegations rising to the level of criminal conduct to the Illinois State Police when the complaint is received. Long-term care facilities have a legal obligation to report any potential criminal conduct to law enforcement.
“Our top priority as a regulator of long-term care facilities in Illinois is ensuring vulnerable Illinoisans are kept safe by those responsible for their care,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in the news release. “Anything short of that is unacceptable, and our entire department is committed to getting this right as we move forward. Working with independent experts, we are simultaneously conducting a full and thorough review of our previous work and revamping our Bureau of Long-Term Care to better serve the people of Illinois.”
Under federal and State laws, IDPH responds to allegations of abuse and neglect at long-term care facilities by surveying the facilities within designated time frames. For cases where serious complaints of abuse and neglect are made, those surveys must be conducted within 24 hours of receiving the complaint, according to the news release. Surveys in response to all other complaints of abuse and neglect must be conducted within seven days.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, federal guidance for regulatory agencies required scaling back long-term care regulatory operations to minimize the number of individuals entering long-term care facilities who could potentially expose residents to the virus.
As a result, certain operations and investigations were prioritized over others to minimize outside contact physically entering long-term care facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.
However, state law which requires abuse and neglect complaints to be reviewed within certain timeframes was not suspended, and it was discovered that IDPH personnel did not complete reviews of those allegations in a timely manner between March 15 and June 30, the release states.
When that discovery was made by IDPH officials, surveyors were sent out to investigate all delayed complain cases, including on-site visits, interview with necessary individuals at long-term care facilities, reviews of facility documents and records and, where appropriate, confirmation that law enforcement was notified at the time of an incident alleging a complaint, the release states.
To date, IDPH has conducted investigations for 272 allegations of abuse and neglect received between March 15 and June 30, and as a result, IDPH officials said they were able to “substantiate factual circumstances” for 17 of those complaints, the release states.
Moving forward, IDPH will being reviewing those 17 findings to determine whether federal or state law was violated, and Cox will assist in those reviews.
Manatt’s review will look at the Bureau of Long-Term Care’s practices and procedures related to intake of complaints, conducting surveys in response to complaints, requiring corrective action by facilities, and overall oversight and monitoring of long-term care facilities.
“Manatt will make recommendations to IDPH to identify any outstanding issues and systemic weaknesses so that IDPH may provide better oversight of long-term care facilities,” the release states.
According to the release, throughout the pandemic, IDPH officials conducted “robust infection control efforts” in long-term care facilities across the state, including more than 1,0000 infection control inspections at 727 facilities, provided technical assistance to 57 local health departments to aid in their efforts to support long-term care facilities, and coached health departments on the use of PPE in facilities and how to restrict visitor capacity.
Mandated testing of residents and staff at long-term care facilities was also implemented, with IDPH setting up mobile-testing sites to facilities in outbreak mode and suspending involuntary state-level discharges of residents at facilities due to a late payment or nonpayment in order to prevent further spread.
Anyone with a complaint about a long-term care facility – residents, families, staff, visitors, etc. – can file a complaint with the IDPH Central Complaint Registry hotline at 800-245-4343. More information on filing a health care complaint can be found at http://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/health-care-regulation/complaints.
Source: The Daily Chronicle