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BEHIND THE TARPON INN PORT ARANSAS OPEN DAILY Observer Bequests Austin attorney Vivian Mahlab has agreed to consult with those interested in including the Observer in their estate planning. For further information, contact Vivian Mahlab, attorney-at-law, P.C., at 617 Blanco, Austin, Texas 78703, or call 512-477-1700. Good books in every field JENKINS PUBLISHING CO. The Pemberton Press John H. Jenkins, Publisher Box 2085 IZS Austin 78768 ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES AUSTIN, TEXAS 7. 31 512 453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip ADOPTION: Loving couple, financially secure, seeks to adopt infant. Legal, confidential. Expenses paid. Please call collect Autumn Hills home in Texas City. Those stories took a while longer to make the newspapers, but when they hit they became one of the biggest nursing home scandals in the country. In March of 1981, Autumn Hills Convalescent Centers, Inc., became the first corporation in America to be charged with murder. The company and eight individuals were charged with “failing to provide adequate and safe care to meet the needs” of eight patients who died at the home in 1978 and 1979. “The Department of Health tends to embrace its role as a consultant to the nursing home industry . . .” Attorney General Hill’s Task Force Report A plea bargain was arranged in December of 1982, but a judge threw it out shortly afterward, and the case continued with a new Galveston County District Attorney and a new grand jury. The case still goes on. This summer a grand jury began hearing witnesses again. The case is expected to last through September. These and other nursing home scandals tend to bring on recurrent attempts to reform the regulations that govern the industry. After the 1977 Lufkin beating, a special session of the legislature took up nursing home reform. A grading system for the state’s homes was established, the health department was given broader powers, and at least one unannounced inspection per year was mandated for every nursing home in the state. Shortly after the special session, the Health Department announced that it had “doubled or tripled” enforcement actions against substandard nursing homes. Warning letters had been sent out, Medicaid funding had been suspended, and two homes were threatened with license suspensions. A legislative committee, led by Sen. Chet Brooks, D-Pasadena, held hearings around the state to make a report to the 1979 legislature. Attorney General John Hill set up a special task force to conduct hearings and draw up a report on nursing home reform. The report was critical of the state’s regulation, charging that “the Department of Health tends to embrace its role as a consultant to the nursing home industry and shuns its role as an enforcer of the laws and regulations governing the industry.” When the murder indictments against Autumn Hills were handed down in 1981, Health Commissioner Robert Bernstein said the problems were “something from another era.” Bernstein, who was the department’s chief nursing home regulator during 1978 and 1979 before he became commissioner, said the department’s regulation got tougher after the 1977 reforms. “I don’t want to make it sound perfect,’ he said, “but it really has improved. We’re certainly not sitting on our hands and playing footsie with the industry.” Governor Bill Clements agreed. “I think Dr. Bernstein is doing a first class, A-1 job,” he said. TODAY, a legislative committee is once again holding hearings around the state, as is the Attorney General. Representatives of the nursing home industry have been on hand at the legislative hearings to suggest that the answer to every problem “should not always be more laws.” Mattox says his hearings are more fair. “The public is extremely skeptical of the nursing home hearings that have been conducted by the legislature,” he says. “They feel that the industry itself may be having too much influence on that or that the people that were appointed to carry out that responsibility are too close to the industry.” And once again the Health Department is claiming that enforcement actions are up from the previous year. The Attorney General agrees and takes some of the credit. “I think the Health Department has shown a more aggressive attitude since I’ve been in office because of my aggressiveness and [because] they knew they had someone to back them up,” Mattox says. The Attorney General’s office of planning and research says the Health Department has taken 129 more “punitive actions” this year than it had at the same time last year. The strongest action taken so far has been the outright closing of a nursing home in Greenville, Texas. The Health Department charged that poor conditions posed an immediate threat to the patients. Mattox flew to Greenville and hand-delivered an order to shut the facility in May of 1983. Only four nursing homes have ever been shut down in Texas, according to Jerry Walker of the quality standards division of the Health Department. The most common type of punitive action has been to withhold Medicaid funding. About 60% of nursing home patients get Medicaid, making it the prime source of income for the homes. This enforcement has not had a great 6 AUGUST 31, 1984