Nursing home nightmares, Part 2

By Aaron Diamant

Dehydration, malnutrition, pressure sores--all stories from Mid-Southerners who blame a nursing home for the death of a loved one. Some say it's just a problem of a few Mid-South nursing homes, but others say the fault lies with the entire system.

"Bea," that's what she asked us to call her, entrusted her mother to Saint Francis Nursing Home after she suffered a stroke in 2001. But Bea says her mother's suffering didn't end there. "Before I had her removed from there, she had lost so much weight, it was terrible to look at." Bea told us her mother couldn't walk or talk, still she knew something was wrong. "A lot of the time, I would go in and she would just frown and I mean she tried to communicate as much as possible by the expression on her face you know it was getting terrible." The home's administrator called the case "regrettable" and that St. Francis "routinely invites family members to participate in periodic care plan meetings to discuss patient care issues like this with staff members."

In the last two years, the Tennessee Department of Health and Human Services cited Saint Francis 29-times for deficiencies, including six for quality of care at the nursing home. And Saint Francis, isn't the only Shelby County nursing home the department cited recently for questionable care. In 2002, it cited American Transitional Rehab and Specialty Care five times for its quality of care, saying the nursing home failed to prevent patients' pressure sores and falls.

Over the last two years inspectors slapped the Graceland Nursing Center with 32 deficiencies. Spring Gate Rehab and Healthcare Center got hit with 40 deficiencies in its last inspection alone, including the department's second lowest rating for quality of care when came to preventing pressure sores.

According to State inspection reports, Spring Gate residents and family members told surveyors horror stories like, "Sometimes it takes 2 1/2 hours to get anything for pain."

"They don't feed the residents if the (family member) is not here."

"Residents do not get baths every day."

Turns out Spring Gate got dismal inspection reports in each of the last three years. Sandy Smegelsky with MIFA said, "I think it's fair to say that in the past those residents have been in jeopardy or at a harm level that they have gotten care that was so poor that their lives were in danger."

We wanted to know if the problem lies with just a handful of nursing homes in Shelby County or if there's a bigger problem with the whole system? To answer that question, we came all the way to Nashville to question the people who are supposed to make sure the nursing homes where we put our loved ones are safe. Katie Gammon, Div. of Healthcare Facilities. said, "Over all I would say they're safe as far as meeting the standards that we hold them to." But even after several questionable inspections, the department allows the nursing homes to remain open while they work to get back on track. "After three years in a row of the same complaints at a harm level they've had their chance to correct. It's obvious that the owner, the facility cannot get things under control. I would never say we couldn't do better. We would have to implement some new rules maybe, we'd have to have added staff." But so far there's no sign that's going to happen.

So how can you boost your odds you loved one will get the best care, Visit the facility at off hours, get to know the facility's nursing director, become active in the home's family council, and report problems to the health department immediately. A few things "Bea" says she wish she had done a whole lot earlier. Your best bet is to check out the nursing home's history. Or to answer specific questions, call MIFA, at 527-0208.