Fines are levied often but rarely collected, records shows

Friday, May 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Although federal and state agencies recommended more than $325,000 in fines for Oklahoma nursing homes in 1998 and 1999, less than one-fourth of that amount has actually been collected, according to records.

An analysis of actions taken by state and federal authorities against Oklahoma nursing homes shows that fines of $329,443 were recommended against 34 nursing homes in the past two years. As of April, 21 percent, or $68,455, had been collected, the Tulsa World reported in today's editions.

In many cases, large fines were settled for much less, while others went uncollected for more than a year, the newspaper reported. Some fines were recommended but not imposed for months or were later rescinded.

The fines were levied against nursing homes by the Health Department and by the Health Care Finance Administration, a federal agency that administers Medicare.

Of the fines recommended against the 34 nursing homes, state and federal officials have collected only part of the amount in seven cases. The full amount of the fine was collected in three cases, records show.

In most of the other cases, action is pending from the HealthCare Finance Administration or the state Health Department, fines are being appealed or officials are awaiting payments from nursing home operators. Officials have the authority to levy immediate fines, but did so only twice.

Theresa Bennett, a health insurance specialist with the HealthCare Finance Administration office in Dallas, said the agency contracts with the state to perform investigations of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that receive both Medicare and Medicaid. There are about 215 such dually certified homes in Oklahoma.

The other 225 homes in the state have patients who either are paying privately or are receiving Medicaid only. Those homes are inspected by the state Health Department, and penalties in those cases are levied by the state.

The state Board of Health, which oversees the state Health Department, appointed a committee last year to study the enforcement of regulations involving long-term care facilities in the state.

Dr. Jay Gregory, chairman of the Board of Health, said the committee began its review after board members were told about the low percentage of fines being collected.

"The thing that started this board talking last fall about this issue of management of long-term care facilities was the disparity in the number of nursing homes being fined and the fines being collected," Gregory said.