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"Closed nursing homes included on state’s list of troubled facilities"

The Press–Enterprise

The Press–Enterprise
09:18 AM PST on Friday, December 14, 2007

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has identified the country’s poorest–performing nursing homes

A Fontana nursing home that closed almost 18 months ago is on a list of 143 poorly–performing nursing homes across the country.

Consumer advocates and nursing home industry representatives said the inclusion of Casa Maria Healthcare Center and another shuttered home, Magnolia Gardens Care Center in Burlingame, makes the list useless to anyone seeking meaningful information.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal agency that regulates nursing homes, repeatedly has refused to release a complete list of troubled nursing homes. The list The Press–Enterprise obtained Thursday includes seven California homes. It’s unclear whether it’s the agency’s complete list.

No one from Medicare and Medicaid or the state Public Health Department, which licenses nursing homes, would discuss the list or explain why closed homes would be on it.

"This really shows that there are serious flaws in federal and state information," said Betsy Hite, spokeswoman for the California Association of Health Facilities. "This is a big disservice to the taxpayer. There are buildings out there that need to be on this list."

Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, agreed.

"What does this tell consumers?" she asked. "What was the purpose of this? It’s not going to help the public at all."

Partial List

The Inland area has more than 100 nursing homes with a little more than 9,600 beds, according to Medicare and Medicaid.

Casa Maria Healthcare Center in Fontana closed July 3, 2006, according to state health department records. The Burlingame home closed some time after Aug. 10, when it was last inspected, according to Medicare and Medicaid records.

Watchdog groups and industry representatives dismissed an abbreviated list of 54 poorly–run nursing homes that Medicare and Medicaid released last month. That list included only one California nursing home, Yuba City Care Center, in the agency’s special focus facility program, designed to provide extra enforcement to homes with continuous problems.

Agency officials defended their list then, saying it would offer people powerful new information when choosing a nursing home.

"Release of this national list of special focus facilities reinforces (the) commitment to provide beneficiaries and their families the information they need when making long–term care choices," said the agency’s acting administrator, Kerry Weems, in a written statement.

Medicare and Medicaid released the list after Congress proposed federal legislation that would require nursing homes to disclose ownership and regulators to provide information about poorly managed homes to help consumers make better choices.

Last month, Sen. Herb Kohl, D–Wis., commended the agency for disclosing names of some facilities with a history of providing poor care. Kohl heads the Senate’s special committee on aging, which last month held a hearing about the nursing home industry and the lack of consumer information.

On Thursday, spokeswoman Ashley Glacel said Kohl supports Medicare and Medicaid’s efforts to provide more information to consumers. She wouldn’t comment on the list.

"The more Sen. Kohl and the committee finds out, the more we need to investigate the (special focus facility) program," she said.

On Wednesday, nine U.S. senators asked Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to release the full list.

"More Information"

Medicare and Medicaid’s list comprises nursing homes that have failed to meet federal quality standards, based on the number and severity of deficiencies found during the facilities’ last three annual inspections.

The oversight program was created in 1998 to identify poorly–performing nursing homes and push for improvement. Every four months, Medicare and Medicaid identifies as many as 15 nursing homes in each state that require more oversight.

In California, the Public Health Department then selects six of those facilities to be placed in the program. Nursing homes that don’t improve could lose Medicare and Medicaid funding, which most facilities rely upon to operate.

An estimated 1.5 million people live in the nation’s 16,400 nursing homes in which residents require help with almost all tasks, such as taking medications, eating and bathing.

Almost 317,000 people were admitted to California nursing homes in 2005, according to a California Healthcare Foundation study.

Riverside County has 52 licensed nursing homes with 4,622 beds. San Bernardino County has 54 nursing homes with 5,012 beds.

Kathleen Billingsley, deputy director of the Center for Healthcare Quality in the state Public Health Department, complimented Medicare and Medicaid for its release of the partial list of poor–performing nursing homes to consumers.

"I think this is a positive first step," she said. "This is more information than they had before."

A Public Health Department Web site with nursing home information –– including fines, complaints and inspection correction plans –– is supposed to be ready by April, officials said. State law required the site to be updated four years ago.

The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform maintains a Web site with citation, complaint and deficiency information from the state.

Medicare and Medicaid’s nursing home Web site shows facility inspection deficiencies. It does not include deficiency explanations, fines, citations or complaints.