Editorial: Crack down on unsanitary nursing homes


Nursing homes that put their patients in deadly danger by ignoring basic sanitary practices should be fined until they comply or put out of business — simple as that. But a new study shows that nursing homes routinely ignore the basic steps they should be taking to protect their patients and public health. Many of these deaths are preventable, and the federal government needs to get the industry’s attention.

An analysis of four years of federal inspection records by Kaiser Health News shows 74 percent of nursing homes have been cited for lapses in infection control — more than for any other type of health violation. Florida’s record is even worse; health inspectors have cited 80 percent of the state’s 700 homes.

There is nothing difficult or time-consuming about having workers wash their hands or requiring that they isolate the sickest patients. Infections cause a quarter of the medical injuries Medicare patients experience in nursing homes, and they are among the biggest reasons that patients are sent back into more costly hospital settings. By one government estimate, infections caught in the course of health care result in up to 380,000 deaths each year.

It is inexcusable that these reckless practices are so routine across the industry. They create a preventable pain for patients and their families and cost the U.S. health care system — and the American taxpayer — dearly. The government needs to crack down on this practice and on the worst abusers. This is a hidden killer in plain sight.