The ability for the public to access the track record of adult care homes got a boost this week from a state Senate committee.

The Senate Health and Human Services committees restored key elements of a controversial House bill that had effectively gutted an effort to force adult care homes to post online the inspection reports of more than 1,600 facilities statewide serving the elderly and disabled.

Over the past three months, lawmakers mangled House Bill 120 and punched holes in the companion Senate bill, SB 358, amid a downpour of criticism from the care home industry.

Before senators got their hands on HB 120 this week, the legislation had been weakened to allow — instead of require — the DOH to post the reports online and limited those to inspections in which major patient care violations were discovered.

The Department of Health already can post the inspection reports online, but hasn’t done so despite the insistence of its own ombudsman.

Keith Ridley, chief of the state Office of Health Care Assurance, said Wednesday that the department would need more personnel and have to make improvements to its website to start posting the reports online.

Beyond that, he said there’s a concern that the public may misinterpret the inspection reports. For instance, he said it wouldn’t be fair to assess one facility based on how many citations it has compared to another.

But advocates of posting the reports online say public is intelligent enough to sort through the information needed to help make a decision on where to place a loved one.

The Senate bill was also amended before it crossed over to the House, but to a lesser degree. It still requires the DOH to post the inspection reports online, but allows the department to also include the positive things care homes are doing in addition to the violations. It also requires any report that includes a violation to be removed from the state website after three years.

There’s broad support for the three-year provision, but perhaps a misperception of what it would actually do as currently written.

Some people who testified at hearings on the bill said the inspection reports would only be removed from the website if a care home goes three years without a violation — a strong incentive to operate above board.

But here’s what the bill actually says:

“Each report posted on the department of health’s website that reports a violation committed by a state-licensed care facility as described in subsection (a) shall be removed from the website after three years from the date the report was posted.”

There’s nothing in the legislation about the report being pulled from the website after three years of good behavior. It simply says the report will be removed after three years, regardless of how good or bad a care home has operated since the violation.

Care home operators, AARP members and advocates for the elderly gave lawmakers an earful of conflicting arguments at the Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Calling the citations vague and sometimes frivolous, Waynette Gaylord, who owns three care homes, urged senators to scrap the effort to post the inspection reports online.

She said the public will get the wrong impression of how a care home is performing by basing it on the inspection reports. She welcomed on-site visits to prospective residents instead of steering them to a website.

But John McDermott, state long-term care ombudsman, argued lawmakers should amend the bill back to its original form with detailed inspection reports required to be posted online.

“This website will end up having no information at all,” he said.

After hearing the testimony, Human Services Chair Suzanne Chun Oakland got promises from people interested in the issue that they would work together as a stakeholder group. The group’s purpose will be to develop a new inspection form to be posted online with information that is fair to the care home operators and useful to the public.

She noted that other states are already posting inspection reports online and the ombudsman has been pushing it for years. She said Hawaii should be able to publish a website within 18 months, as the bill prescribes.

The senator also noted the perhaps “serendipitous” timing because the state is in the process of overhauling its IT infrastructure.

The committees passed HB 120 with amendments to form the stakeholder group and bring the House bill in line with the Senate bill. It heads to the Ways and Means Committee next, which could be tough to get through because the legislation includes funding for a new position to maintain the website and additional resources.

The Senate bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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