Is your loved one safe in AZ nursing homes? - Kelli Butler for Arizona

Serious health and safety concerns

We all know there is a teacher shortage in Arizona. We’ve heard our prisons can’t find enough corrections officers and the Department of Child Safety needs caseworkers.

We’ve heard the reasons, too. Pay is low and budget cuts mean class sizes are too large, prison guards feel unsafe and social workers have unmanageable caseloads.

And last week I heard more troubling news – the Arizona Department of Health Services doesn’t have the staff necessary to conduct timely investigations of complaints against long-term care facilities. Some uninvestigated complaints alleging abuse and neglect of nursing home residents have been ignored, in fact, for more than two years, according to a recent Auditor General review of the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

As the Ranking Member on the House Health Committee, I attended the Senate Health Committee of Reference hearing last week, scheduled to review the Auditor General’s report. I expected to hear directly from ADHS about their plans to correct this serious lack of oversight. This Committee of Reference is a special type of hearing held when the legislature is not in session, in part because they require adequate time and attention to be completely diligent and thorough, and they conclude with a recommendation to either continue, revise, consolidate, or terminate the agency under review.

In its written response to the Auditor General’s report, the ADHS indicated they would need 44 additional staff members to conduct needed investigations, but would allocate just two. It was frankly shocking that during the Senate's investigative hearing, there was no opportunity given for committee members to ask any questions of ADHS. The stated reason: there wasn’t enough time. Instead, the Senate Health Committee chair and her three colleagues voted to proceed and approve the continuation of the Dept. of Health Services through 2028. During their votes, every Democratic member explained they could not vote to continue the agency without adequate answers to these significant safety concerns. We should all be concerned that the committee was denied the opportunity to fulfill their mission – to thoroughly investigate the Auditor General’s report and learn how ADHS intends to ensure the safety of residents in nursing homes in Arizona. Despite no assurance that adequate steps will be taken to keep vulnerable people in long-term care facilities safe, the motion to continue the agency passed on a 4-3 party-line vote.

Voting NO was a drastic move, but warranted, I believe.

Each of us who serves in the State Legislature has an obligation to ensure state services like education and health care are adequately funded and infrastructure maintained. Safety must always be a priority.

I am concerned that budget cuts have compromised our ability to do our jobs. Indiscriminate cuts to vital programs create obvious risks to public health and safety.  It’s important to note that since 2008, our state’s population has grown by 14 percent, but we have seen a cut of 15 percent in the total number of government employees in Arizona. We all want cost-effective and efficient government services, but we must have honest, bipartisan discussions as to how best to provide those services.  Our job as legislators is to hold agencies accountable and to insist on the transparent use of our tax dollars.

I am just beginning my campaign for re-election and I am asking for your help.  I am hopeful that there will be more balance in state leadership following the 2020 elections and I look forward to crafting budgets and overseeing state agencies in ways that will serve you and your families well.

Thank you!