Nurse serving food at elderly nursing home

A nationwide investigation of nursing homes has uncovered thousands of food safety violations of the type that could lead to deadly foodborne illness among nursing home residents.

The investigation by FairWarning, a nonprofit news organization based in Southern California, focuses on public health, consumer and environmental issues. The organization charges that its review of inspection reports, federal data and interviews with residents and long-term care experts indicates that nursing home residents nationwide are at risk for foodborne illness from unsafe kitchens. Food safety experts fear that problems may be worse in assisted living centers, which lack the federal oversight of nursing homes.

Foodborne illness is a threat to people of any age. But those over 65 are especially susceptible due to weakened immune systems, chronic diseases, and age-related changes in their digestive systems, the report says.

Adults age 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized or die from foodborne illness, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The FairWarning report says records from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that South Carolina was among the states with the most enforcement actions for violations of federal food safety standards for nursing homes in 2018.

The Joye Law Firm in South Carolina can assist you if you or a loved one of yours has been hospitalized or died from a food-borne illness contracted while a resident of a S.C. nursing home. Our nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys may be able to help you hold the nursing home accountable and recover compensation for your loss.

Poor Hygiene in Nursing Home Kitchens

Inspection records from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which regulates nursing homes that receive federal money, show that unsafe food handling was the third most frequently cited violation last year in America’s estimated 15,700 nursing homes. Only infection control deficiencies and accident hazards were cited more often.

In 2018, 33 percent of the nation’s nursing homes were cited for violating federal requirements to safely store, prepare and serve food.

Since January 2016, about a third of all nursing homes were cited two or more times for the same food safety violation, according to a FairWarning analysis of federal nursing home data. During that period, 1,553 nursing homes – 10 percent – were cited three or more times for the same failure.

The FairWarning report says that nursing home inspection reports, available online, describe a chronic lack of hand-washing; months-old expired food; workers handling raw meat with bare hands, then touching residents’ food; and microwaves and stovetops caked with debris.

2015 report by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest found that states vary widely in how well they detect and report foodborne illnesses.

FairWarning also says less than 1 percent of food safety violations in nursing homes are deemed serious enough to warrant a high-level citation. It quotes a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services who said that multiple factors are considered in imposing fines or other enforcement actions. In weighing penalties, she said, the government considers the level of harm and number of residents affected.

Michael Connors of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, told FairWarning that much of the blame lies with nursing home operators who routinely skimp on residents’ dietary needs or slash kitchen staff to save money and increase profits.

“By treating life-threatening conditions (in the kitchen) as minor problems, regulators are sending a message to nursing home operators that no change is needed,” Connors said.

Dr. David Gifford, a senior vice president and chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, a trade group for long-term care providers, defended the industry’s handling of food safety. “The vast majority of issues identified during inspections are important to correct but are rated by the state and federal officials as unlikely to put anyone’s health at significant risk.”

Examples of less critical offenses that can result in citations include things like staff members failing to wear gloves, a bearded worker without a face guard or unlabeled leftovers.

Federal Government to Do Less to Protect Nursing Home Residents

In July, the Trump Administration moved to roll back a series of protections for nursing home residents, including one proposal that would lower the qualifications for directors of food and nutrition services at long-term care facilities. The government contends that the changes would eliminate requirements that are unnecessary, obsolete or excessively burdensome.

The Trump administration proposal includes requiring a director of food and nutrition services to either have a minimum of 2 years of experience in the position of a director of food and nutrition services, or to have completed a minimum course of study in food safety that includes such topics as foodborne illness, sanitation procedures, and food purchasing/receiving. A person in the position would receive “frequently scheduled consultations” from a qualified dietitian or other clinically qualified nutrition professional.

The proposal states that its intent is to reduce long-term care facilities’ training and hiring costs.

Currently, if a qualified dietitian or other clinically qualified nutrition professional is not employed full-time, the director of food and nutrition services must be a certified dietary manager, a certified food service manager, have similar national certification for food service management and safety from a national certifying body or have an associate’s or higher degree in food service management or in hospitality (with food service or restaurant management coursework).

FairWarning says comments recently submitted to the government call the proposal risky and “a step backwards in healthcare.”

Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney

South Carolina nursing home abuse and neglect attorney from Joye Law Firm can help you if you or a loved one has been injured by foodborne illness due to poor hygiene in a long-term care facility kitchen or food services. We use our skills and experience to help protect the health and safety, legal rights and financial interests of nursing home residents and others in long-term care institutions.

Joye Law Firm has offices in CharlestonMyrtle BeachClinton, and Columbia, but our nursing home abuse attorneys are ready to take care of your case anywhere in South Carolina. Call Joye Law Firm. You can reach us at (877) 941-2615 or fill out an online form for a free case review.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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