Amid a downpour of last-minute criticism from the adult care home industry, Hawaii lawmakers further diluted a bill that would require the state to post online its inspection reports of facilities for the elderly and disabled.
The powerful lobbying group has kept the initiative off the books for years, but some muddled form of it may still survive this session.
Under the latest version, the only violations that could be posted online would be those involving gross negligence, willful misconduct and financial abuse. The original bill would have included the entire inspection report, which details the quality and conditions of the facilities.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me that you can get the whole enchilada if you put your request in writing and have 10 to 15 days to waste but to get the information now, when you need it most, you get a watered down online version that tells you only part of the story,” said John McDermott, the state’s long-term care ombudsman.
After clearing three House committees, House Bill 120 is now in the hands of Finance Chair Sylvia Luke. Her office said last week that she hasn’t decided whether her committee will give it a hearing.
Despite the setbacks, McDermott continues to lead the charge for the bill’s passage. He said the changes “again demonstrates the political power the care home industry has over our legislators.”
The Health and Human Services committees were the first to water down the bill by giving it a defective date, which is done by delaying when the law would become effective. The committee members said violations should be posted online, but the inspection reports should also include the positive things care homes do.
But McDermott was most alarmed after the Consumer Protection Committee made a few key changes — namely, giving the Department of Health the option of posting the inspection reports online instead of requiring it and limiting the information included in the reports.
The Department of Health requires requests for inspection reports to be made in writing. Supporters of the bill have shared personal stories with lawmakers about how hard it can be to figure out where to house their loved ones on short notice.
Wendy Silverthorne, a former Hawaii resident who now lives on the mainland, said she had less than 24 hours after her mother was discharged from a hospital on Oahu to find a long-term care facility. She said she didn’t have 10 days for the DOH to get back to her with the information necessary to help her decide what home was most appropriate.
Hawaii’s 51 nursing homes post their inspection reports — which show if there’s a history of violations and what corrective action has been taken — on the Internet because they are federally regulated.
But there are almost 2,000 adult care homes, assisted living facilities and foster homes that aren’t required to do so.
Rep. Rida Cabanilla, who voted for the bill with reservations, said she doesn’t think there’s a need to post the inspection reports online. She said it will just be an added cost to taxpayers and she hasn’t seen much public concern.
A nurse by trade, Cabanilla said the amendments help reach a compromise between the care home industry and the advocates for the elderly who support the bill.
Rep. Bob McDermott, no relation to the ombudsman, cast the lone no vote. He could not be reached for comment on why he opposes the bill.
Rep. Romy Cachola, who like Cabanilla represents an area with numerous care homes, also voted for the bill with reservations. He did not return a message seeking comment.
The Department of Health seems to be backing down.
DOH Director Loretta Fuddy submitted testimony supporting the first version of the bill, with reservations over technical aspects and having sufficient resources.