A secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services always has a plate piled high with important issues to address and tasks to complete.
But Janie Miller's new assignment from Gov. Steve Beshear deserves priority handling because it involves the health and welfare of more than 23,000 Kentuckians who live in nursing homes.
Beshear has asked Miller to conduct a thorough review of the way the state handles reports of abuse and neglect of nursing home residents. His action follows a Herald-Leader investigation that found serious gaps in the reporting system and a lack of prosecution in cases of abuse and neglect.
Reporters Beth Musgrave and Valerie Honeycutt Spears looked at 107 Type A citations issued during a three-year period — citations that deal with life- or safety-threatening situations.
What the reporters found was that 18 deaths, 30 hospitalizations, five broken bones and two amputations resulting from violations of state regulations produced just seven prosecutions.
They also found that five Type A citations issued by the cabinet were misplaced or never received by the appropriate unit of the attorney general's office, that coroners and law enforcement officers are rarely asked to respond to injuries or deaths in nursing homes and that local prosecutors often learn of nursing home abuse only when they read about it in the newspaper.
Obviously, something is seriously wrong with the way Kentucky handles abuse and neglect in nursing homes. The system either lacks some vital rules and regulations or the existing rules and regulations that could correct this situation are being ignored.
So, we applaud Beshear for responding so quickly to the articles.
Our applause might have been louder had he appointed a task force to conduct a review of the system in a public forum in which some of the shortcomings of the nursing home industry might have been the subject of public discussion.
Still, Beshear took a positive step and deserves credit for that. And we trust Miller to do a thorough job, and do it quickly enough to have any recommendations that result from her review ready for consideration by the 2011 General Assembly.