A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the scathing Auditor General’s report about ADHS’ neglect of duty to follow up on nursing home complaints during the Director Christ era. Last week the legislature followed up on that report with a joint meeting of the House and Senate Health Committees.
The legislators heard first-hand from the Auditors about how terribly behind the department was in following up with nursing home complaint investigations from 2019 to 2021. They were very upset when they also learned that, instead of catching up and implementing recommendations from the Auditor, ADHS leadership simply reclassified the vast majority of high-risk complaints to low and medium to give the appearance that they were improving. Most formerly high-risk complaints were simply closed out with no investigation.
- Between 7/1/19 and 4/21/21, under the leadership of former Director Christ and Assistant Director Colby Bower, ADHS lowered the priority level of 98% of their open high priority complaints, giving them months more time to investigate and giving the appearance they were making improvements (high risk complaints need to be done in 10 days vs months for the others).
- ADHS leadership CLOSED 79% of those former high priority complaints without ever doing an investigation.
- ADHS leadership CLOSED 82% of high priority facility self-reports after changing them to medium and then closing without an investigation.
- In the second half of 2019 (before the 1st auditor general report) ADHS had classified 42% of nursing home complaints as high risk. After the report was published – the percentage of complaints classified as high risk dropped to only 4% (July – Dec. 2020).
- ADHS did not post complaints on AZCARECHECK (the public disclosure site) unless there was an investigation… but because they closed out the vast majority of complaints without an investigation, thousands of those complaints never made it to their website- further greatly limiting the ability of family members to make informed decisions.
The interim joint committee of reference is asking for quarterly reports from ADHS, told ADHS to be transparent about how they classify complaints, legislature will make sure CMS knows about the audit reports, the ADHS is supposed to fully cooperate with the auditors on follow ups. Sadly, there was no mention of urging state or county law enforcement or prosecutors to investigate the disturbing and potentially illegal findings in the Auditor General’s Report.
Note: The unprofessional conduct documented by the Auditor General occurred while Director Christ was in charge of the agency and while Colby Bower was in charge of licensing. Both have left state government and now enjoy well-paid positions at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.
For a summary of what happened at the hearings and the damning findings of the auditor general’s report read these articles:
- Arizona lawmakers: Was lax nursing-home oversight criminal neglect?
- Frustrated lawmakers grill state health agency director over failure to investigate abuse in care facilities
- Arizona lawmakers call for changes to health department
The entire 3+ hour hearing is posted here: Joint House Senate Nursing Home Complaint Hearing. To be honest, I’ve never seen a hearing quite like this in all of my 30+ years following state government.
This Thursday, the House Ad Hoc Committee on Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults will be meeting at 1:00 in HHR 1 to learn more about the disturbing findings.