TOPEKA — Nursing home lobbying organizations in Kansas renewed criticism Tuesday of an inspection process that triggered a steep increase in fines, while consumer advocacy groups warned legislators that deflating the state’s oversight and enforcement system would make abuse more difficult to expose.

Debate in the Capitol reflects a dramatic increase in civil penalties levied against Kansas nursing homes. The total in 2012 was $52,000. The amount in 2016 was $4.6 million.

“There was no possible justification for a 9,000 percent increase in Kansas nursing home fines over the past five years,” said Rachel Monger, a lobbyist for 150 nonprofit senior care organizations.

Mitzi McFatrich, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, told member of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee the 18,000 older adults and adults with disabilities living in Kansas nursing facilities were a vulnerable population deserving of government monitoring.

Half to 70 percent of these individuals have Alzheimer’s or other dementia, she said. And, most are at least 85 years old.

“These are the Kansans I’d ask you to keep front and center when the nursing facility industry asks your support for less oversight, less enforcement, a weakened inspection process, for more self-policing,” McFatrich said.

Nursing home owners, irritated by aggressive government monitoring in the past several years, have urged the House and Senate to consider legislation allowing accreditation reviews by independent associations to replace the current survey system operated by the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the public-interest legal advocacy organization Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said nursing home surveys performed by KDADS ought to be conducted at required intervals. A staffing shortage at KDADS appears to a factor in the delaying inspections.

He said the agency’s system of reporting on conditions in nursing homes should be improved rather than abandoned.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the nursing home lobby is proposing to eliminate these critically important surveys. These surveys are life savers.”

He said survey reports had revealed heinous acts that transpired in nursing facilities. He pointed to events at a for-profit Topeka nursing home that recruited a sex predator released from Larned State Hospital. The man raped a male resident at the nursing home, a crime documented in state of Kansas survey reports.

“The nursing facility survey process helped shine a white-hot light of justice on this horrifically dark case,” Nichols said. “Evidence in other records proved that this was a pattern with this facility.”

Joe Ewert, a vice president at Brewster Place in Topeka, blamed the rise in fines assessed nursing homes in Kansas to poorly conceived federal policy and work of an overburdened KDADS staff that engaged in a “hardy if not overzealous attempt to implement the policy.”

Ewert was responsible for overseeing KDADS’ survey certification and credentialing commission from 2010 to 2015.

“I can also attest that while tragic and even criminal events sometimes occur in nursing homes, these events are not representative of the quality of care provided in most nursing homes in Kansas,” he said.

No bill has been introduced during the 2018 session to accomplish the regulatory changes.