Sharp increase planned by state in number of nursing home inspectors

Federal audit found long delays in answering complaints

April 16, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

State health officials are about to substantially increase their nursing home inspection staff after a federal audit report strongly criticized Maryland for long delays in responding to complaints of poor care from patients, their families and health care workers.

Carol Benner, director of licensing and certification in the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said 10 inspectors will be added immediately to the staff of 35.

Eight inspectors and two supervisors will be added this year. Ten inspectors are scheduled to be hired next year.

The expansion is a result of provisions in the state budget recently approved by the General Assembly.

Benner said her agency is working to respond to all pending complaints and expects the backlog -- noted in a March U.S. General Accounting Office report -- to be eliminated late this week or early next week.

In one case, the GAO said, the state failed for four months to respond to a complaint from an ambulance attendant about a patient whose body was covered with sores and whose fingers caked with blood.

Benner said the six inspectors assigned to respond to complaints have been merged with the regular inspection staff, which will handle regular inspections and complaints.

Benner said she had instructed her staff to be more sensitive to the complaints of family members.

The GAO report included the case of a patient in a Parkville nursing home who died shortly after being released. A state official told the woman's granddaughter that the department gave priority to complaints involving living patients, not dead ones.

State inspectors have taken action against another nursing home.

Benner said serious deficiencies were found at Mariner Health of Catonsville, in the first block of Smith Ave. She said the home was one of three Mariner Health facilities in the Baltimore area cited recently.

She said state and federal officials have notified the operators of the 143-bed Catonsville facility that payments for new Medicare or Medicaid patients will be cut off April 30 unless the deficiencies are corrected. Funding for current patients will be cut off by the end of May.

Officials at the nursing home did not respond to a request for comment.

Benner said the notice was the result of inspections, the most recent of which found serious problems with care provided to two elderly patients.

In both cases, Benner said, nursing home personnel failed to recognize and treat such serious health conditions as severe anemia.

She said the nursing home also failed to comply with the request of a patient that she not be resuscitated in the event of cardiac arrest. Despite the request, the nursing home called 911 when the patient was nonresponsive.

"That is a serious problem," Benner said.

She said the state had recommended to the U.S. Health Care Financing Agency that the owners be fined $1,200 a day. She said the findings indicated a pattern of care that could result in harm to patients.

Though it approved funding to increase the nursing home inspection staff, the legislature in its recently completed session effectively killed a measure that would have required state health officials to notify the relatives of nursing home residents found during state inspections to have received substandard care.

The notification provisions, backed by the Maryland Nurses Association, were stripped from the bill by the Senate Economic Matters Committee.

The measure was combined with a related bill that calls on state health officials to develop a rating system to grade the state's 265 nursing homes.

The federal government makes similar data available on the Internet based on state inspection reports.

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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