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Beam: Nursing home care isn't perfect

Last Modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 4:21 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

One of the latest national surveys ranks Louisiana as having the second worst nursing homes in the country. Texas had the worst.

The news is depressing. However, the state Nursing Home Association takes issue with Families for Better Care, which did the nursing home survey. The association represents more than 250 of the state’s 281 certified non-profit and for-profit facilities that care for nearly 36,000 elderly and disabled citizens.

The organization that conducted the survey is a nonprofit advocacy group in Florida. And Joseph Donchess, executive director of the state association, was quick to question the motives of Families for Better Care. He told The Times Picayune the report was the product of an agency funded by attorneys who sue nursing homes. The newspaper noted that the Wilkes & McHugh law firm is a donor to the organization.

Other states that got “Fs”  included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Oklahoma.

States getting “As” were Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah.

How do you get to be called the state with the second worst nursing homes?

Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, told The Advocate his organization primarily looks at professional staffing. One of the eight measuring sticks is the average number of hours of nursing care each resident receives per day. Louisiana received an “F” in five of the eight categories measured.

Louisiana nursing home residents receive only about 32 minutes of care per day from registered nurses, according to the report. Only 8 percent of the state’s facilities had registered nursing staff levels that were considered above average.

Donchess said the report doesn’t mention that Louisiana nursing homes provide three hours of licensed practical nurse care per resident per day, several minutes more than the national average.

Families for Better Care said residents also get less than two and a half hours per day of direct care. That includes services like help with eating and going to the bathroom.

CBS News gave the report national exposure on Aug. 9 and talked about nursing home abuse that was recorded in two states with hidden video cameras. The Florida report found widespread abuse and neglect nationwide. It said one in five nursing homes abused, neglected or mistreated residents in almost half of all states.

The Advocate reported Saturday that an assisted-living home attendant in Zachary is facing a criminal charge after allegedly putting a dead roach on an elderly woman’s leg back in June, then mocking her in an incident captured on a cell phone video as she sat confused on the floor. The police chief called it an isolated incident.

 “These are real problems for real people in these facilities,” Lee said. “Residents are in danger. We see that in this data.”

Nursing homes were also graded on health inspections, and 97 percent of Louisiana’s facilities were found to have deficiencies, 16 percent of them considered severe. That finding was based on data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Donchess said the report failed to note that most instances aren’t severe deficiencies.

The report also found that 80 percent of complaints to the state’s long-term care ombudsman were verified as having merit.

“We’re really dismayed by the report because Louisiana has made a lot of strides in the last 10 to 15 years,” Donchess said. He complained that the report was filled with “half-truths” and “no-truths.”

Donchess insisted Louisiana nursing homes are providing excellent care, even though the Medicaid rate by which they are reimbursed ranks in the bottom 25 percent of the country. He said the federal-state health care program for the poor pays for over 70 percent of the state’s nursing home patients.

“Satisfaction has also been on the rise with 87 percent of families and residents telling officials in 2012 they would recommend their nursing facility to friends and loved ones,” Donchess said.

Lee said he wasn’t surprised to hear the Louisiana Nursing Home Association attack the merits of the study.

“The sad part is that instead of attacking the real problem – which is trying to find a way to provide consistent quality care in Louisiana and the other failing states – the nursing home industry and their hired guns attack the messenger instead,” he said.

OK, there are valid arguments on both sides of this issue. But that doesn’t mean we should simply shrug our shoulders and move on to other pressing problems. Anyone who believes all is going great in the nursing homes of this state or this country is deceiving himself.

Yes, there are some really great health care facilities in this area and in other parts of the country. However, most of us who have had nursing home experiences with family members know the care could be better in many instances.

Donchess and others in the industry do a great job defending their operations, but they shouldn’t dismiss any criticisms that come their way. Reports like this latest one should spur them to take a closer look at how well they are performing and make things better. Care for our elderly and disabled population can always be improved, and a longer life span is going to increase their numbers.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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