The Ills of Wellspring

March 18, 1994

How critical is the shortage of nursing home beds in Anne Arundel County? So critical that people have been forced to leave their elderly loved ones in an institution that lets patients sit in their own excrement for hours, doesn't administer medicine properly and ignores infections until a patient contracts gangrene.

These are just a few of the violations found by state health officials at the 200-bed Wellspring Nursing Center in Glen Burnie; last November, the center was fined $50,000 for "an ongoing pattern of serious or life-threatening deficiencies."

Despite the horrendous conditions, Wellspring remains full. Virtually every nursing home in the county has a waiting list. Caring people who have tried to pull their relatives out of Wellspring have found there is no place else to put them. They face a real crisis if the health department follows through on its threat to close Wellspring on May 7 unless conditions improve.

The state is right to crack down, however. No institution that persistently fails to meet basic standards of care can be allowed to stay in business -- shortage of beds or not. Wellspring's explanation for the litany of violations is this tired excuse: "Good help is hard to find."

The government should neither subsidize nor tacitly sanction a nursing home that doesn't work at finding staff who treat patients decently. At Wellspring, it's strictly luck that negligence has not resulted in a patient's death. It if doesn't change its ways, the facility has to be closed.

We hope it does not come to that. The new company that just assumed management of Wellspring, Global Health Management of Bethesda, has a good track record of turning around nursing homes. Global Health feels confident it can meet the May 7 deadline, even though two months is not much time to fix so many problems. We trust the state recognizes this.

The state wants conditions brought up to standard by the deadline, but if by May 6 Global Health is, say, 80 percent of the way toward completing required improvements, it would be foolish for the state to shut Wellspring. The need is too great to get rid of one of the largest nursing homes in the county if the new management demonstrates a commitment to making Wellspring a safe, healthy and caring place.

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