Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Half of Most Dangerous Nursing Homes Remain Treacherous for Residents After Homes Are Cleared By Regulators

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), sets the federal standards for nursing homes and determines whether they are in compliance based on inspections performed primarily by state health departments. States license facilities and have  authority to revoke the licenses.  CMS designates "special focus status" to the poorest-performing facilities out of more than 15,000 skilled nursing homes. In an arbitrary system befitting government bureaucracy, the federal government assigns each state a set number of special focus status slots, roughly based on the number of nursing homes. Then state health regulators pick which nursing homes to include.
More than 900 facilities have been placed on the watch list since 2005. But the number of nursing homes under special focus at any given time has dropped by nearly half since 2012, primarily because of federal budget cuts negotiated by President Barack Obama and Congress. This year, the $2.6 million budget permits only 88 nursing homes to receive the designation, though regulators identified five times as many facilities, 435, as warranting such scrutiny. California and Texas each has six slots, the most of any state. Twenty-nine states have just one.

Especially troubling is that more than a third of operating nursing facilities that graduated from the watch list before 2014 continue to hold the lowest possible Medicare rating for health and safety, a one of five possible stars, according to an analysis performed by Kaiser Health News (KHN).  But worse, nursing homes that were forced to undergo such scrutiny often slide back into providing dangerous care, according to a KHN analysis of federal health inspection data. According to KHN, of 528 nursing homes that graduated from special focus status before 2014 and are still operating, slightly more than half — 52 percent — have since harmed patients or put patients in serious jeopardy within the past three years.These nursing homes are in 46 states. Some gave patients the wrong medications, failed to protect them from violent or bullying residents and staff members, or neglected to tell families or physicians about injuries. Years after regulators conferred clean bills of health, levels of registered nurses at these facilities tend to remain lower than at other facilities.
Yet, despite recurrences of patient harm, nursing homes are rarely denied Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Consequences can be dire for patients  According to a KHN analysis, in 2012, Parkview Healthcare Center’s history of safety violations led California regulators to designated Parkview nursing home, a “special focus facility,” requiring it to either fix lapses in care while under increased inspections or be stripped of federal funding by Medicare and Medicaid — a financial deprivation few homes can survive. After 15 months of scrutiny, the regulators deemed Parkview improved and released it from extra oversight.
But a few months later, Elaine Fisher, a 74-year-old who had lost the use of her legs after a stroke, slid out of her wheelchair at Parkview. Afterward, the nursing home promised to place a nonskid pad on her chair but did not, inspectors later found. Twice more, Fisher slipped from her wheelchair, fracturing her hip the final time. The violation drew a $10,000 penalty for Parkview, one of 10 fines totaling $126,300 incurred by the nursing home since the special focus status was lifted in 2014.
The cost to injured residents is incalculable.  Fisher "used to go to bingo every day and she was very involved in the nursing home,”  her son-in-law, Eric Powers, told KHN. Although Fisher moved to a different nursing home for better care, Powers related that “after this whole thing, she has to be on painkillers. She’s mainly in her room all the time. It’s the saddest thing in the world.”
In 2010, NMS Healthcare of Hagerstown, Md., left the watch list after 10 months.  Last year, Maryland’s attorney general sued the facility and its owner, Neiswanger Management Services (NMS), alleging that they evicted frail, infirm and mentally disabled residents “with brutal indifference” when their health coverage ran out or the facility had the opportunity to get someone with better insurance.

Among those evicted was Andrew Edwards, who was told by NMS that he was being discharged to an assisted-living center, according to the lawsuit. Instead, in January 2016, the staff sent him to a crowded, unlicensed Baltimore City row house where the owner confiscated his bank card and withdrew $966 over his objections, the lawsuit said. Although NMS said it had arranged for his outpatient kidney dialysis, “that was false,” Edwards said in an interview. He ended up in an emergency room after he missed his treatment.

NMS maintains it stopped referring patients to that owner when told of the conditions. This month, CMS expelled the Hagerstown nursing home from Medicare and Medicaid after citing it for more violations. The company is closing the facility. NMS, which still runs other homes in Maryland, has sued state regulators, claiming they are vindictively trying to drive the chain out of business.
Too few nurses, particularly registered nurses, provide care at some of the most troubled homes, KHN’s analysis showed. Registered nurse staffing was still 12 percent lower than at other facilities, even three years after the homes were released from the watch list.
In 2009, Pennsylvania health regulators released Golden LivingCenter-West Shore in Camp Hill after 17 months of supervision. The company said in a recent statement that when a home was put on that list, “we mobilize the resources necessary to help get that LivingCenter back into compliance.”
But data from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website show the facility has among the worst nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in the nation, with registered nurses devoting an average of 12 minutes for each patient daily. The state average is 58 minutes daily per patient.
Golden LivingCenter-West Shore was fined $59,150 in 2015 after being cited for, among other violations, "allowing a resident’s feeding tube to become infested with maggots." Also, according yo KHN, Golden Living agreed to pay $750,000 to settle three cases involving patient injuries from falls that occurred after extra oversight ended, court records show.

Last year, Golden Living sold its Pennsylvania homes to Priority Healthcare Group.  Priority is following a common strategy for shedding an unwanted reputation: changing the facility’s name. In California, Parkview — where Fisher slipped out of her wheelchair — is being rebranded too, as Kingston Healthcare Center.

CMS defended the program to KHN, saying that "nursing homes on the watch list showed more improvement than did comparably struggling facilities not selected for enhanced supervision."  In other words, putting 88 facilities on the watch list meant that they showed more improvement than the 435 other facilities deserving special focus status, but which were permitted to continue with no special oversight or ultimatum.  That is a defense of a program that asks advocates and critics to applaud what appears to be a system in failure, if CMS is, as it appears to be, acknowledging that th 435 other facilities aren't improving as a result of a failure by the government to demand that they improve, or implement stricter oversight, or threaten to stop Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement.  
“CMS continues to work to improve oversight to prevent any facility from regressing in performance,” reads a CMS statement to KHN.  
Some nursing homes on the watch list do maintain improvements. After Evergreen Nursing Home in southern Alabama was designated a special focus facility in 2005, the owners brought in new managers and added nursing supervisors.  Medicare now rates Evergreen a five-star facility. 
But even prolonged supervision does not guarantee progress. Poplar Point Health and Rehabilitation in Memphis stayed on the watch list for 2½ years until 2009. federal lawsuit brought last year claims that Poplar and its owner, Vanguard Healthcare, regularly provided “nonexistent, grossly substandard, worthless care” as far back as 2010. Vanguard, now in bankruptcy court, declined to comment to KHN.
Our seniors simply deserve better.  Aging in Place planning is vitally important if you hope to avoid the risks of institutional care.  If you want to learn more about Aging in Place planning, go here.

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