Rod Roberts cuts Iowa nursing home inspectors by 26 percent

Former State Representative Rod Roberts had no experience in staff management or regulation when Governor Terry Branstad picked him to head the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. In fact, Roberts admitted that he hadn’t applied for the position Branstad offered him in early November.

It didn’t take long for Roberts to figure out how to please his boss, who had complained last year about nursing home inspectors’ “gotcha attitude.” The Des Moines Register’s Clark Kauffman reports today,

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals will now have 28, rather than 38, inspectors to monitor the care received by 30,000 residents in the state’s 442 nursing homes.

The reduction comes five months after state officials warned the federal government that a shortage of inspectors had already put Iowa at risk of failing to meet minimum federal standards for overseeing nursing homes.

The cuts will result in annual savings of $125,000 in state salaries. The 10 inspectors were paid a total of about $500,000, but 75 percent of that was paid by the federal government.

“That just shows you that this isn’t about saving money,” said John Tapscott, a former state legislator who now advocates for the elderly.

“This has to do with the fact that the nursing home industry wants less oversight,” he said. “How much clearer can it be that the governor is a pawn of the industry?”

I encourage you to click through and read Kauffman’s whole story. Roberts was a natural pick to pursue the more “collaborative” approach Branstad desires, because he and his wife have direct ties to regulated nursing homes. Roberts also spent a decade serving in the Iowa legislature, where the assisted living industry usually gets what it wants.

Branstad’s record on nursing home regulations was dismal during his previous four terms as governor, and even in recent years inspectors have found it hard to enforce rules for care facilities.  A 2009 Government Accountability Office report described disturbing pressure on Iowa nursing home inspectors (see the references to “State A” on pages 40 through 42 of the GAO report). Reducing the number of inspectors will increase the chance for negligence or maltreatment of residents to go unnoticed and/or unpunished. I would hesitate to move a loved one to an Iowa assisted living facility unless I were able to visit frequently and keep a close eye on conditions.

Given our state’s aging population, Iowa politicians should be demanding more oversight of care facilities. Nearly 15 percent of Iowa residents (roughly 445,000 people) are over the age of 65.  

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