Elder Care Concerns
Updated: Friday, January 11 2013, 09:40 AM EST
An online resource is transforming one of the most regulated industries in the country into one of the most transparent.
The inside inspections, evaluations and substantiated complaints filed against nursing homes accepting federal aid have been put online by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The surveys are split into three catagories - health, safety, staff - and then awarded a zero through five star rating.
"We look at our star ratings every time it updates," said Kally Dotson, the administrator at White Oak Manor, one of the highest ranked nursing homes in Rutherford County.
The ratings are a move toward transparency and state Nursing Home Section Chief Beverly Speeroff said they are also a marketing tool, that empowers potential clients, and hance pushes nursing homes to be meet standards.
Pam Hutchins is a Rutherford County nursing home ombusdman who visits local facilities to interview residents. She believes the star ratings generally give an accurate reflection of the situation inside the each home she visits within the county.
"A lot of time you can, you can tell by the residents contentment and happiness, or being happy and it feeling like home," said Hutchins. "You can tell what the ratings may be based on how the residents feel and how they act and talk to you."
But even Dotson - with very high ratings - says the star system should be a guide for potential residents and not a map.
"I do think that facIlities get a bad rap for a low star rating when they really shouldn't," said Dotson.
One particuular category, the quality indicators, evaluates the health of the residents and thus a home with a more fragile population at the time the survey is taken is at a disadvantage.
"Even with us, our star rating can change in a matter of minutes," said Dotson. "The 'Quality Indicators' - that could change just based on our population and we could drop."
But the "Quality Indicators" column can also be revealing; they measure the number of urinary tract infections, the number of falls and people reporting pressure sores - all generally considered preventable health issues.
In Rutherford County, two homes - Oak Grove and Willow Ridge - have very few stars. And, according to Nursing Home Compare documents, the two homes also have a handful of complaints filed against them over the last three years.
An employee at Oak Grove brought an unloaded gun into work. Willow Ridge was cited for failure prevent an aggressive male resident from groping vulnerable female residents.
Among other complaints - administering too much of too little medicine, staff not owashing their hands and a resident wetting themself after not being taken to the bathroom for hours.
Betty Lowery says her mother stayed in a nursing home.
"There were some of us there practically every day because they didn't take care of her like we thought they should," said Lowery.
The elder care industry has evolved over the last decades. In making inspections, the complaints and ratings so accessible - they're online or can be requested at any nursing home - the hope is that facilities will self correct because any problems actually arise.
"We do mock surveys ourselves, to make sure we're taking care of our residents before a survey actually comes in," said Stephanie Terry, who works to ensure that all 15 White Oak Management facilities are in complaince with regulations.
Lowery has lived at White Oak for seven years now. She has a puzzle going nearly every day and friends down the hall. It has become home.
"The next move I make will be to the cemetery," said Lowery laughing. "I hope to stay here unless they get tired of me and throw me out."
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