Nursing home bill passed by House after hours of debate

Hartford — Lawmakers in the House of Representatives debated for more than seven hours on Tuesday about whether to require for-profit nursing homes to report on the financial status of "related party" businesses that they contract with for services.

Lawmakers debated the bill past 8 p.m. before voting 86-57 in favor of it. The lengthy debate delayed passage of other legislation.

Related parties include companies that are related to nursing homes through family associations or business associations. In the wake of nursing home bankruptcies and scandals, supporters of the bill said it would increase transparency and help families decide where to place their most vulnerable family members. Opponents said nursing homes already provide lengthy financial reports annually to the state Department of Social Services that include how much they pay related parties for services and goods. The additional reporting requirement would also make proprietary business information public, opponents said.

"It says whether you are good, bad, rich, poor, solvent, on the brink of bankruptcy. Everyone has to disclose this information and we wonder why we are considered the least business-friendly state in America," said House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk.

If there is concern about a particular nursing home, Cafero argued instead that the state should get information about that specific nursing home.

Currently, if a report reveals that a nursing home spent $10,000 on laundry services one year and then spent $60,000 the following year, DSS could investigate that particular price difference, said state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury. This bill requires all for-profit nursing homes that receive state aid to provide the annual profit and loss statements for any "related party" that receives $10,000 or more from the nursing home to provide goods and services.

The Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities Inc., which represents for-profit and nonprofit health care facilities, said during a public hearing in February that it opposed the bill because "it imposes burdensome requirements on all nursing homes without reason."

The governor's administration along with union SEIU Healthcare District 1199, which represents nurses and other employees, supported the bill.

The state invests more than $1.6 billion annually in nursing home care, said Malloy's budget chief Benjamin Barnes during a public hearing in February. It is important to make the financial status of related party businesses transparent so that nursing home residents, families and caretakers are protected, he said.

Deborah Chernoff, director of public policy for SEIU Healthcare District 1199, said in February that two nursing homes owned by chains - Haven Healthcare and HealthBridge Management - filed for bankruptcy in recent years.

"Because that facility (HealthBridge facility in Wethersfield) was the only skilled nursing home in Wethersfield, those residents not only lost their home, they lost access to their community and their families and friends now have to travel to visit them," Chernoff said in written testimony. "Serious consequences flow from nursing home closures; DSS and consumers alike should have access to the information that supports - or doesn't - such a serious decision."

j.somers@theday.com

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