DOJ: New task force efforts not limited to nursing homes

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Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer

The 10 regional Elder Justice Task Forces announced by the Department of Justice on March 30 will focus on pursuing nursing homes that provide “grossly substandard” care to their residents, but that doesn't mean that assisted living communities and other settings are off the hook, a Justice Department spokeswoman told McKnight's Senior Living.

“It is certainly possible that a task force may look into concerns or allegations involving other types of long-term care providers if they fall within the team's region or jurisdiction,” she said. “Regardless of the provider type, the task forces will take appropriate action if violations of law are identified.”

The new task forces will include representatives from the U.S. Attorneys' offices, state Medicaid Fraud Control Units, state and local prosecutors' offices, the Department of Health and Human Services, state adult protective services agencies, LTC ombudsman programs and law enforcement.

“Bringing all of these entities together will provide more tools to address complaints about nursing home or other long-term care providers,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer said at the announcement of the task forces. “Having federal, state and local agencies working together will allow the task forces to find the most effective response for each particular situation.”

The efforts will be launched in the following DOJ districts: Northern District of California, Northern District of Georgia, District of Kansas, Western District of Kentucky, Northern District of Iowa, District of Maryland, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Tennessee and the Western District of Washington.

“We believe that by actively participating in the Elder Justice Task Forces announced today through joint investigations, sharing information and regular meetings, we will strengthen our efforts nationally to protect the most vulnerable of our population who reside in our nursing homes and other care facilities,” said Keesha Mitchell, president of the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units and the Director of the Ohio Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Ohio's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Mitchell told McKnight's Senior Living, investigates all abuse and neglect that occurs in care facilities as defined in O.R.C. 2903.33. “This definition covers those who are dependent upon the services of others, including nursing homes, residential care facilities homes for the aging and veterans' homes,” she said. “Consequently, we do investigate failure of care in assisted living facilities.”

American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson characterized the national effort as “a smokescreen aimed at finding cost-cutting measures that would threaten life-improving post-acute and LTC services for millions of seniors.” Although AHCA/NCAL supports efforts to improve care and “weed out bad actors,” he said, “today's announcement mistakenly conveys that quality is on the decline.”

The launching of the task forces comes about two weeks after the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department for details on its work to protect senior living residents from being exploited via social media. Sen. Chuck Grassley's March 14 letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch cited an incident that occurred in January in an Illinois assisted living and memory care community, in which a former certified nursing assisted allegedly hired three men to have sex with female residents with dementia while he recorded them.

Grassley isn't the only senator seeking answers from federal agencies. His letter followed by 10 days one that Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) sent to the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights asking what the department was doing to curb nursing home workers' abuse of social media. And on Dec. 23, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) had asked the Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which he is a member, to investigate the issue.

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