ALBANY – Health regulators have been lax when it comes to assessing fines against nursing homes where patient care and safety problems have been identified, including where known violations “escalated into more serious problems with limited consequences,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found during an investigation. The Democrat said the Cuomo administration’s Department of Health has taken an average of four years between the time a problem is found at a nursing home and when a fine is assessed – if, in the rare case, a financial penalty is even levied. In 2007, the period between identification of a problem at a nursing home and issuance of a fine was six months. Despite the health agency uncovering, for instance, 87 cases of “major deficiencies” in 2015 at some of the 43 nursing homes in Erie County, the department issued no financial penalties against the operators of the problem facilities, the comptroller’s audit found. “Families need to know their loved ones have safe accommodations and providers are being held accountable when problems are found,” DiNapoli said in a written statement. The review of the agency charged with regulating nursing homes found the Department of Health is meeting its duties for timely inspections of the state’s 672 nursing homes. But then the problems begin at an agency that employs only one part-time employee responsible for processing ongoing enforcement actions, DiNapoli said. The report said the problems in assessing fines can lower the deterrent for nursing homes to comply with regulations. DiNapoli said there are major efficiency issues at play...