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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Idaho way behind on investigating nursing home, health facility complaints

The state agency responsible for inspecting and certifying health care facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living centers, has a huge backlog, including 135 complaints awaiting investigation, and is experiencing heavy turnover due to stress and an unmanageable workload, lawmakers heard this morning. “We’re barely avoiding financial penalties for our ability to meet all federal performance standards,” Tamara Prisock, administrator of the Division of Licensing and Certification for the state Department of Health & Welfare, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning.

She detailed a backlog of 275 overdue surveys, 135 open complaints awaiting investigation, and 11 facilities waiting for initial licensing or certification surveys. And that doesn’t count the 3,166 regular surveys due in calendar year 2015 or additional complaints that regularly come in, hundreds a year.

Turnover has plagued the division, Prisock said, with one worker leaving in 2011, six in 2012, 13 in 2013 and 11 in 2014. For the first three of those years, pay was the main reason the surveyors said they left; after lawmakers approved a pay adjustment last year, the primary reason cited in 2014 was workload and stress.

“Pay is no longer the primary reason surveyors leave the division,” Prisock said. “We must do more to address the workload.” It takes eight months to train a new surveyor, she said, so she’s requesting funding to create a training pool next year. That would allow the hiring of four surveyors, one immediately, then another as soon as that one’s trained, and so on. The division has 26 health facility surveyors for more than 500 facilities, and eight surveyors for 300 residential assisted living facilities. It has nine surveyors qualified to survey the 2,200 certified family homes; and two to survey 140 developmental disabilities agencies.

“Although we continue to struggle with turnover, our productivity has increased,” Prisock told lawmakers. The division currently has five vacancies, and eight of its employees are eligible for retirement in 2015.

Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, the House Appropriations vice-chair, told Prisock, “I get complaints that our inspections are much more stringent than in Utah.” She responded, “If we’re talking about Medicare and Medicaid certification, the requirements are the same across the nation.” But she said there could be some variations among states as to their approach.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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