Key Note:

  • National Nursing Home Initiative will target nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to residents with criminal and civil actions

On March 3, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced the creation of the National Nursing Home Initiative (NNHI). This new initiative will coordinate and enhance civil and criminal efforts to pursue nursing homes that provide what Attorney General William P. Barr called “grossly substandard care” to their residents.

HHS’s Office of Inspector General is expected to play a major role in the investigation of nursing homes targeted in this initiative. According to DOJ, the NNHI will focus on “the worst nursing homes around the country” whose owners and operators “put profits over patients.” AG Barr stated that DOJ will target nursing homes that fail to maintain proper hygiene and infection control, fail to meet their residents’ nutrition requirements, and use physical restraints or pharmaceutical drugs to unlawfully restrain and subdue residents. Under and over-medication of patients will also be a major focus of the NNHI. Although not explicitly mentioned in the announcement, a coronavirus outbreak in a long-term care facility like that which has occurred at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, could well lead to both civil and criminal investigations of its operating conditions.

In a statement delivered at the Summit on Elder Justice on March 3, 2020, AG Barr explained that NNHI “will use every available tool” to pursue these nursing homes, including bringing both civil and criminal actions against bad actors. AG Barr noted that DOJ has already opened investigations into approximately 30 individual nursing facilities in nine states.

Elder justice has been a major priority of DOJ since President Trump signed the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act into law in 2017. In 2018, the DOJ appointed a National Elder Justice Coordinator to lead the Department’s work in this area. Last year, the DOJ launched the Transnational Elder Strike Force, which focuses on investigating and prosecuting foreign-based fraudsters who target American senior citizens.

The NNHI represents the next step in DOJ’s larger Elder Justice Initiative, which teams with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices to combat elder abuse crimes, as well as financial fraud and scams against seniors.