Iowa Regulators See 45 Percent Increase in Health Care Facility Complaints in 2022

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on December 13, 2022 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
Updated on May 7, 2024

red line graph on the uptickThrough October of 2022, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA) has received 2,186 complaints about health care facilities, such as nursing homes. The DIA is receiving an average of 219 complaints per month, which is a 45 percent increase compared to the past two years.

The number of complaints the DIA received each month in 2020 and 2021 was relatively stable. In 2020, there was an average of 151 complaints per month – 1,828 complaints were filed for the whole year. In 2021, there was an average of 158 complaints per month – 1,840 were filed for the whole year.

Early in 2022, the DIA began receiving significantly more complaints. Since May of this year, the DIA has been receiving more than 200 complaints per month.

According to an advocate for older people in Iowa, John Hale, the increase in complaints is not a surprise. Many more residents of health care facilities and their families are filing complaints because they want better care.

There may be several factors causing people to be dissatisfied, according to Hale:

  • Understaffing, which prevents residents from receiving care quickly
  • Workers at care facilities continue to change careers because they want to earn money and have more rewarding work
  • Facilities continue to hire temporary staff members, but these people do not know the residents or understand their needs very well
  • Legislators have not taken steps to address the quality of care residents receive

Delays in Investigating Complaints

Unfortunately, the DIA has been having a difficult time investigating complaints in a timely fashion. Sometimes it takes investigators more than a year to investigate some complaints.

For example, it took 14 months to investigate a complaint filed by a woman on behalf of her grandmother. Even though the DIA was able to validate the complaint, the complainer’s grandmother had passed away six months earlier.

Delays in investigating can make it harder to determine the truth of the complaint. For example, a March 2021 complaint was investigated 15 months later, but workers could not recall what happened. The complaint was about a resident who fell and suffered a serious injury, causing her to be hospitalized.

As of June of this year, there were more than 400 nursing home complaints that were a minimum of 30 days old. Nearly half of those 400 complaints were 120 days old. A total of 24 of the complaints that have not been investigated are more than 12 months old.

DIA investigators often arrive at facilities with numerous complaints to investigate. They were able to validate complaints at the following facilities:

  • 11 complaints at Aspire of Washington
  • 18 of 19 complaints at Ravenwood Specialty Care
  • 11 of 15 complaints at Westwood Specialty Care
  • 13 of 15 complaints at Bettendorf Health Care Center

The DIA says the COVID-19 pandemic is the main factor in the backlog of complaints that must be investigated. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) suspended nursing home inspections at the beginning of the pandemic. CMS also told the DIA and other state agencies to focus on infection prevention. DIA has brought in federally certified contractors to help address the backlog of complaints.

However, even before the pandemic, the DIA was struggling to satisfy federal standards on investigations of complaints.

Between September of 2018 and September of 2019, just under 1,000 complaints were sent to the DIA about harm to the mental, physical or emotional well-being of residents. These complaints required an investigation within 10 days. However, the DIA failed to investigate 631 complaints within 10 days. There was a federal performance review in March 2020, but 41 of the complaints still had not been investigated by that point.

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