ATLANTA -- An 11Alive Investigation sparked a special meeting Tuesday between state lawmakers and top health officials.
Representative Sharon Cooper requested the meeting in response to the investigation which uncovered the 2015 death of 93-year-old Rebecca Zeni, a nursing home resident killed by scabies infestation. Cooper is the chairperson for the Georgia House Health & Human Services Committee.
On June 4, 2015, a report by the Georgia Department of Public Health revealed that Zeni was one of 35 residents and staff infected with scabies in the Shepherd Hills Nursing Home.
“I understand in any industry, you’re going to have stuff fall through the cracks, but in this case, it’s life or death,” Scott Hilton, a Republican who represents Peachtree Corners said.
The health agency is not required to send an inspector or alert the Georgia Department of Community Health, which is the regulatory agency responsible for conducting inspections.
Cooper believes GDPH should be required to report infestations to GDCH.
"That should be a requirement. Anytime you get good communications between departments, then outcomes are going to be better," Cooper said. “If one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, you’re looking for potential problems.”
Patrick O’Neil, M.D. is the Public Health Commissioner. He is open to the idea but warns mandated reports could create negative consequences.
“The downside of a mandate is that it can become extraordinarily bureaucratic with a large number of things being reported that don’t turn out to be substantive,” O’Neil said.
Health officials in the meeting told lawmakers more nursing home inspectors could help identify nursing home violations.
Commissioner O’Neil told lawmakers on Tuesday that his agency needs more epidemiologists, which are essentially disease detectives.
“Not having enough people to investigate allows whatever the outbreak is to spread before it can be contained,” O’Neil said.
State health officials do not think Zeni’s case is a reflection of a bigger problem.
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