ByApril Barker (Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council) |
Over the July 4 weekend in 2015, members of the state Legislature sparked a public uproar by proposing last-minute changes to the state budget bill that would have created a “deliberative process” exception to Wisconsin’s long-cherished public records law. Government transparency advocates condemned the move, and the changes were hastily rescinded.
Attorneys for families of residents say that facilities’ failure to report serious injuries or deaths related to abuse or neglect is not uncommon. Far more often, they say, the state health department only learns about a case of alleged neglect or abuse after a family member files a complaint. Advocates for health care providers stress that incidents of neglect and abuse are extremely rare, and can come to regulators’ attention in a variety of ways.
In response to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s inquiries into an accident involving a 88-year-old woman at a Milwaukee nursing home, the state Department of Health Services launched an internal review, which concluded that state officials did not properly respond. As a result, the department says it has reviewed its intake procedures and made changes to ensure that complaints against nursing homes are triaged appropriately and investigated in a timely fashion.
In January, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services began publishing state inspection reports of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other health care providers on its website. Records are available from July 2012 onward.
A new Wisconsin law, which went into effect in February 2011, bars families from using state health investigation records in state civil suits filed against long-term providers, including nursing homes and hospices. It also makes such records inadmissible in criminal cases against health care providers accused of neglecting or abusing patients.