Time for answers on nursing homes

More than 23,000 Kentuckians live in nursing homes, most of which depend on payments from taxpayer-funded Medicaid and Medicare.

A Herald-Leader investigation suggests that these 23,000 Kentuckians are not receiving the full protection of the law.

Taxpayers deserve to know why and what can be done to better protect those vulnerable and often voiceless Kentuckians who live in nursing homes.

Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, a grass-roots advocacy group, has called on Gov. Steve Beshear to appoint a task force to examine questions raised by reporters Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Beth Musgrave, such as:

■ Why 107 Type A citations, those in which a resident's life or safety is endangered, issued over a three-year period produced only seven criminal prosecutions.

■ Why five Type A citations issued by the Cabinet for Family and Health Services' Inspector General were misplaced or never received by the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Control unit.

■ Why police and coroners are rarely notified of injuries and deaths at nursing homes.

■ Why local prosecutors say they often learn of nursing home abuse in the newspaper.

Taxpayers need to know whether murky lines of authority and communication are to blame, whether there's a failure to aggressively pursue crimes against nursing home residents, whether other explanations account for the rarity of prosecutions or all of the above.

An examination of accountability in nursing homes should also look at the root causes of abuse and neglect.

The idea of a task force to examine these issues drew quick support from both sides of the political aisle. Rep. Carl Rollins, a Democrat from Midway, and Sen. Tom Buford, a Republican from Nicholasville, endorsed the idea.

So do we.

We understand that influential interests inside and outside government often thwart task forces and their recommendations.

But just throwing much-needed light on nursing homes would serve a useful purpose, especially as an aging population requires more nursing care.

And certainly there's strong public support for stopping abuse of nursing home patients and punishing those who are responsible.