There are laws in place that are supposed to protect elderly nursing home residents from abuse and neglect and enforcement procedures established to ensure the law is followed. But laws and procedures are only effective if they are faithfully carried out, which is not the current state of things in the U.S. Clearly, the system that is supposed to protect our vulnerable elderly is badly broken.
Two U.S. senators from Pennsylvania have just released to the public a government-generated list of several hundred nursing homes that were flagged as among the worst in the country, but whose names until now were being withheld by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal entity responsible for oversight of the nursing care industry. They include 18 nursing facilities in Illinois.
CMS annually inspects nursing homes throughout the U.S. and rates them for quality according to a five-star system, publishing its detailed findings on the Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare website. CMS identifies the most troubled facilities for inclusion in its Special Focus Facility (SFF) program, which entails extra scrutiny and oversight of consistently poorly performing homes where inspectors have documented abuse and neglect. The SFF program targets facilities that “substantially fail” to meet the standards of care mandated by federal regulations.
The distinction between how CMS treats the SFF “participant” facilities and the SFF “candidate” facilities is what prompted action from the elected officials.
Most-troubled nursing homes allowed to fly under the public’s radar
CMS identifies hundreds of nursing homes that actually qualify for SFF oversight; however, because of limited agency resources, only 88 facilities have been selected for the SFF designation. These are the participants. They represent less than one percent of all the nursing homes operating in the U.S. The names of these facilities are made public; the other 400-plus facilities that would otherwise qualify for the program because of their “persistent record of poor care” (the candidates) are not publicly disclosed “despite being indistinguishable in terms of their qualifications for enhanced oversight.”
“As a result, individuals and families making decisions about nursing home care for themselves or for a loved one are unlikely to be aware of these candidates,” the senators’ report stated.
There are more than 15,570 nursing homes in the United States. Less than one percent participate in the SFF program and less than three percent are eligible for the” candidate” list.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Senators Robert Casey and Patrick Toomey, responding to an investigative series published on PennLive about preventable deaths occurring in state nursing homes, contacted CMS and requested the names of these SFF “candidate” facilities as well as information about the general effectiveness of the SFF program. CMS responded with a list of approximately 400 SFF candidates, which the senators’ offices recently disclosed in a public statement.
Nursing Home Compare is an online reference tool maintained by CMS that helps the public compare and contrast nursing homes in their community, so they can make informed decisions for their loved ones. Nursing homes that are participants in the SFF program are designated not with the usual one-to-five-star rating, but with a small yellow triangle that resembles a “caution” traffic sign that flags it as a Special Focus Facility. However, no similar designation is given to SFF candidates on the Nursing Home Compare site, leaving visitors in the dark as to their status in relation to other facilities rated on the site.
Senators Casey and Toomey also called CMS to task for failing to provide the public with adequate information or context on the SFF program, including the reason for a facility’s inclusion in the program, the length of time it has been in the program or whether it has improved, nor any information on facilities that cycle in and out of the program. They also alleged that it takes too long for the site to update the names of new SFF participant facilities.
“The only parties with knowledge that a facility is an SFF candidate are CMS, the state in which a candidate is based, and the facility” itself, the senators said in a joint statement. “While CMS requires every SFF participant to notify residents and the community once it has been selected, the same rules do not apply to SFF candidates.”
In other words, a family could decide to place their loved one in an SFF candidate facility completely unaware that it has been designated by CMS as being in the bottom three percent of all the nursing homes in the country because of its longstanding, poor record of care.
By way of response to the senators’ communication, a CMS official defended the practice of not identifying the candidates by claiming that the public was being adequately warned about the quality of these facilities because most of them only warrant one or two stars on Nursing Home Compare, marking them as “below average.” However, there is still no way for the unsuspecting public to differentiate them from other one- or two-star nursing homes which have not been targeted for the SFF program.
Dying Illinois nursing home resident had to call 911 himself, only to expire at hospital
Among other observations, the senators’ report cited the case of an Illinois SFF participant facility, Aperion Care Capitol in Springfield, that “failed to provide adequate medical treatment or respond to the concerns of its residents” such that one ailing resident was forced to call 911 himself on his mobile phone after his requests to be taken to a hospital went ignored by staff for a week. The resident had complained for days of shortness of breath, fever and chills and other symptoms of infection. When emergency personnel arrived at the facility to get him, a staff nurse told them he could not leave without a doctor’s order. When the resident finally made it to the hospital, his condition had progressed to the point that his life could not be saved. According to physicians at the hospital, the resident may have survived had he received treatment sooner.
“Oversight of America’s poorest quality nursing homes falls short of what taxpayers should expect,” Senators Casey and Toomey wrote, calling for increased transparency into consistently underperforming facilities. Their report and the resulting news coverage has prompted CMS to announce that going forward, it will regularly make public the list of all nursing facilities identified as candidates for the SFF program.
Let our nursing home injury lawyers protect the rights of your family
When you have to make the difficult decision to admit a loved one to a residential care facility, you want to be armed with as much information as possible when choosing among nursing homes, and it is clear that you cannot always count on government agencies to be a reliable source of information. If you suspect your loved one has suffered abuse or neglect in an Illinois nursing facility, the nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC can help you hold the responsible parties accountable. Call us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Worst-performing Illinois nursing homes
Following is a list of Illinois nursing homes that were designated by CMS as SFF participants and candidates:
Special Focus Facility participants
- Aperion Care Bloomington
- Aperion Care Capitol
- Aperion Care Cairo
- Franklin Grove Living and Rehabilitation Center
Special Focus Facility candidates
- Greentree of Bradley Rehab
- Champaign Urbana Nursing & Rehabilitation
- Swansea Rehab and Health Care Center
- West Suburban Nursing and Rehab Center
- Generations at McKinley Court
- Gardenview Manor
- Generations at McKinley Place
- Champaign County Nursing Home
- Accolade Health Care of Pontiac
- Alden Terrace of McHenry Rehab and Health Care Center
- Willow Crest Nursing Pavilion
- South Elgin Rehab & Health Care Center
- Edwardsville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
- Helia Healthcare of Belleville
- Helia Healthcare of Champaign
- Elevate Care Waukegan
- Landmark of Richton Park
- Burgin Manor