Annual in-person inspections of nursing homes are designed to be vigorous, challenging and transparent.

They should be.

The inspection visits, commonly referred to as “surveys” by regulators, are among the most important tools for gaining oversight and evaluation of the medical care provided to our most vulnerable citizens, including in many cases, our parents and grandparents.

So it was concerning that a federal report revealed that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 71 percent of the nation’s nursing homes went more than 16 months without these in-depth, in-person reviews. The federal report found that 344 of Pennsylvania’s 687 nursing homes — that’s just over 50 percent — did not have a full inspection during this period.

In its July 2021 report, the Pennsylvania Department of Health noted that nursing home surveyors conducted 466 inspections, including 289 complaint-initiated investigations, including 30 that were COVID-19 specific, at 329 nursing facilities. Following the inspections, there were five new sanctions finalized against nursing care facilities in the past month resulting in a total of $40,150 in fines.

“These surveys help to create transparency and oversight on the care provided to tens of thousands of vulnerable residents,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. He noted that the surveys did continue, even during the height of the pandemic, and as COVID cases have continued to rise across the state in recent weeks, nursing home providers have been successful in keeping case counts down within the facilities.

That clearly is a bit of good news, however, a new set of circumstances continues to make on-site vigorous inspections more important than ever.

Many nursing home providers are now combatting a workforce shortage. Shamberg said access to care is now being limited and new admissions are being put on hold due to a lack of available nursing facility employees.

These new challenges, combined with the ongoing pandemic, will require sharp scrutiny in the days and months ahead, and anyone who notices an issue in a nursing facility can help.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said the department will investigate any complaint made to the department “to ensure residents receive the best quality of care.

“We encourage staff, residents and visitors, if you see something, please say something by contacting the department,” she said.

The see something, say something mantra is certainly in place here, especially in the current climate.

To file a nursing home complaint, call 1-800-254-5164, or find online resources — including a digital complaint form, emails and addresses — by clicking on the “Nursing Homes” link on the state Department of Health website at health.pa.gov.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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