Stella Maris fines urged for deficiencies in care Malnourished patients reported at nursing home

October 31, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Citing a repeated pattern of serious deficiencies that threaten the health of patients, state officials have asked the federal government to impose fines of up to $1,600 a day against the Stella Maris Nursing Home, a 448-bed center in Towson.

The operators of the nursing home are accused of allowing patients to become malnourished and to develop serious bed sores.

Carol Benner, director of license and certification in the state health department, said yesterday that she hoped the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration would act quickly on her recommendation. She said the proposed penalty was based on an Oct. 23 inspection report made public this week. Under federal regulations, civil fines ranging from $50 to $3,000 a day can be imposed.

Jane Rosen, a spokeswoman for the HCFA regional office in Philadelphia, said her agency was reviewing the report and the proposed penalties.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene cited a series of cases in which patients were not provided with adequate nutrition and were not properly treated for bed sores. The report also cited a lack of adequate nursing staff and supervision.

Stella Maris, one of the largest nursing homes in the region, is owned by Mercy Medical Center.

Benner said that if the home does not correct the problems by Jan. 9, the state would stop admissions. If the deficiencies aren't corrected by April 9, the facility would be barred from participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Asked to comment on the report, Stella Maris officials issued a two-paragraph written statement citing the home's accreditation by the Joint Commission of Healthcare Organizations.

"Stella Maris and the state continue to work together to address family concerns and identify opportunities to enhance the quality of care. We have taken immediate action to remedy each situation," the statement reads.

The Oct. 23 report is the third to criticize the nursing home since January. The home was found to be violating state regulations during inspections Jan. 12 and Feb. 17. But when inspectors returned May 22, they found the problems had been corrected.

Benner said the latest inspection, which began Sept. 28 and continued through Oct. 9, was based on a complaint filed with the department. She said the action against Stella Maris marks the first time the state has used new enforcement guidelines set by the federal government.

Among the deficiencies cited was the failure of Stella Maris officials to notify the attending physician when a patient "experienced severe unplanned weight loss." In addition, the staff failed to notify the doctor when a patient's blood tests showed a dangerously high level of potassium.

One patient lost 14 pounds in a little over two weeks, according to the report. Another patient, who had to be transferred to a hospital, was diagnosed with malnutrition and dehydration.

In several cases cited by inspectors, the nursing home staff failed to act despite substantial drops in the nutrition consumed by patients. According to the report, the poor nutrition resulted in several patients developing bed sores, which in some cases went untreated.

State surveyors also cited the home for repeated instances of patients being served "unpalatable" food that had been allowed to sit for long periods of time after it was prepared.

Finally the state cited a case in which Stella Maris staffers dutifully recorded the daily treatment over a period of 10 days of a patient who had been transferred to a local hospital.

"All this documentation occurred at a time when the resident was not physically present in the facility," the report concludes.

Pub Date: 10/31/98

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