ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Nursing home reform is too long past due


Anderson Herald Bulletin

The timing wasn’t right.

That was the explanation offered by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau after effectively killing a bill that would have brought much-needed oversight to the Indiana nursing home industry.

Charbonneau, a Republican from Valparaiso, is chairman of the Senate Health & Provider Services Committee. That committee had scheduled a hearing on Senate Bill 405, a measure that would have revealed for the first time exactly how much federal money county hospitals are diverting from their nursing homes and how much hospital executives have benefited personally.

The bill also would have required the Indiana Department of Health to establish new quality metrics for nursing homes, and it would have prohibited retaliation against whistleblowers for exposing wrongdoing at health facilities.

It was, in other words, exactly the sort of legislation reform advocates have been calling for the legislature to enact.

But just ahead of the scheduled hearing, Charbonneau pulled the bill from the calendar.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Fady Qaddoura, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said he learned of the chairman’s decision only moments before the hearing.

“I’m disappointed that it was pulled from the calendar because this is a critical issue,” he told The Indianapolis Star. “In my view, if it’s public dollars, then we should mandate public disclosure.”

An Indianapolis Star investigation found at least $1 billion in federal money had been diverted from Indiana nursing homes for other purposes, such as hospital construction projects. The newspaper found millions more had been lost to fraud.

The money came through a Medicaid program intended to improve care for nursing home residents, but The Star found that county hospitals had been exploiting loose state and federal rules that allowed them to use much of the money to pad the bottom lines of their hospitals.

In the meantime, Indiana’s nursing homes are among the most poorly staffed in the country, and Qaddoura pointed out they’re also among the best funded. It only makes sense for a fiscally conservative state like Indiana to insist on knowing where all that money is going.

Could the legislature’s failure to act have anything to do with the fact that the industry’s trade group, the Indiana Health Care Association, is among the top five spenders on lobbying at the General Assembly? Surely that’s only a coincidence. Just like the millions of dollars nursing home interests have spent on political campaigns.

Charbonneau did offer one telling comment after killing the bill.

“What they’re doing is perfectly legal,” he told The Indianapolis Star.

That, of course, is exactly the reason reform advocates have been calling for a change in Indiana law.

When will the timing finally be right? Hoosiers are tired of waiting.