Disability Law Center and National Health Law Program Demand Federal Probe of Utah’s Failing Long-Term Care Oversight

Press Statement
For Immediate Release

Posted: July 10, 2024
Community Access and InclusionHealthcareInstitutional Rights and Civil Liberties

Today, the Disability Law Center (DLC and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) are submitting a complaint to several federal agencies that alleges the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has failed to provide adequate oversight in long-term care settings for more than a decade, leading to the harm of Utahns with disabilities.  The complaint will be submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“For nearly a decade, the DLC has repeatedly asked Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to address the systemic failure of its oversight agencies to fulfill their fundamental duty to protect the health and safety of people receiving long-term services and supports (LTSS). We are concerned that federal dollars are being spent to monitor and pay facilities that are known by the State not to meet minimum health and safety standards, including facilities receiving enhanced Medicaid reimbursement rates under the Upper Payment Limit demonstration (UPL). DHHS has failed to meet its minimum obligations to ensure that the conditions of participation are met through its survey agency, that the health and welfare in community settings is maintained, and that individual rights are protected. Investigations by DHHS fail to identify clear instances of abuse and do not take appropriate action to ensure facilities remediate or cease operations (and do not reappear under a different name). NHeLP and the DLC write to you today to request assistance to address these significant systemic failures of Utah DHHS.”– Excerpt from the Complaint.

The complaint asks CMS to use its authority to cancel contracts with Medicaid facilities that do not meet minimum health and safety standards and otherwise ensure that Utah DHHS protects health and safety of Medicaid recipients; OIG to review the Upper Payment Limit demonstration (which allows certain nursing facilities to receive higher rates) for compliance and the use of federal funds for licensure activities that fail to meet the state’s obligations; and OCR to investigate DHHS’ failure to effectively communicate with people with disabilities and their failure to provide effective oversight of facilities receiving federal funds.  The complaint uses several examples to highlight the harms Utahns with disabilities have experienced due to the failure of DHHS to provide adequate oversight.

“As the complaint shows, going back to 2014, the DLC has brought instances of abuse and neglect, including sexual assault and death, to the attention of DHHS,” said Nate Crippes, Public Affairs Supervising Attorney with the DLC. “Unfortunately, the State has failed to take the action necessary to prevent these harms, so we are calling on federal regulators to step in and ensure Utahns with disabilities are kept safe.”

“The state’s dereliction of its duties to monitor and take action on abuse and neglect of people with disabilities is egregious, an abject failure of government, and a misuse of the federal funds meant to provide services to and protect people with disabilities,” said Elizabeth Edwards, Senior Attorney at the National Health Law Program. “The state’s pattern of only taking action after the DLC works to get public attention to issues known to DHHS is unconscionable.”

Read the full complaint.