Pennsylvania nursing homes get a failing grade from a national watchdog advocacy group for long-term care

Families for Better Care, a Texas-based not-for-profit citizen advocacy group, issued a report card this week based on eight measures from federal government data, including the number of problems found during government inspections, staffing levels and the number of verified complaints.

Pennsylvania received an F and ranked 46th among the states, down from 32nd in 2014, the last year the Families for Better Care's released a report card. Pennsylvania received a D in 2014.

Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging Administrator Karen Leonovich didn't have a specific comment on this survey but said it is important for consumers to pay attention to inspection data.

"As a local Area Agency on Aging, our agency receives daily inquiries regarding nursing home care in our area," she said. "We advise callers to review nursing home inspection results on the PA Department of Health’s website. We also encourage older adults and their families to visit the local nursing homes so they can view the facilities and talk with the staff. The local Ombudsman is available to answer questions about the rights and responsibilities of nursing home residents."

State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, said she spoke briefly this week with state Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-65, the chair of the House health committee, about the report.

"The health committee will be reviewing it," said Culver. "It is alarming, and it is cause for concern. If that report is true, we need to figure out why that is and how to fix it."

The older generation is important, said Culver.

"These seniors have given their entire lives to get to this point," she said. "We need to make sure in their time of need we are taking care of them like they deserve."

Zach Shamberg, the CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association that represents nursing homes, said the new report card is based on 2017 data. He said Pennsylvania nursing homes showed significant improvement in a few measures last year, including the number of homes with severe deficiencies.

He added that funding shortages impact the homes' ability to care for residents. He said 70% of Pennsylvania nursing home residents are covered by Medicaid, the state-federal program for people with lower incomes, but Medicaid funding hasn't increased since 2014.

Shamberg added that the average Pennsylvania home receives $27.25 per day less than the cost of caring for each resident.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health blamed the homes' poor grade and the drop in national ranking in part to increased state oversight and penalties against nursing homes. If one state inspects and penalizes its home more vigorously than another, officials say, that could result in its homes appearing worse.

Department Spokesman Nate Wardle said there were 541 inspections in April of 369 nursing homes, resulting in more than $206,000 in penalties. Wardle also noted that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports mandated staffing levels, and has assembled a group to look for policies that will improve nursing home safety.

Julie Beckert, the assistant vice president of communications for HCR ManorCare Inc., based in Ohio, said HRC has 168 skilled nursing centers in 27 states, including ManorCare Health Services at 901 Court St. Sunbury. Beckert said she is not familiar with the Families for Better Care report, and noted that it is difficult to compare state to state since each state has both federal guidelines but also their own state regulations.

She encouraged anyone seeking nursing care to visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to research nursing facilities. She also said to talk to residents and staff and to make sure the facility has experience in working with whatever diagnosis the resident has.

"It's very important to provide quality care for these individuals," she said.

Victoria Rosancrans, a long term care nurse from Sunbury and former volunteer ombudsman for Northumberland County for four years, said she is not surprised by the report.

"The major issue in Nursing Homes is the CNA (certified nursing assistant) to resident ratio and the Nurse to Resident ratio. The nursing hour standards are set forth by the state. Some nursing homes factor in their director of nursing and assistant director of nursing to those hours, however, they are in their offices not out on the floor working," she said. "DOH should never be going in a facility and finding zero deficiencies. There is no facility that every CNA and Nurse is following a residents care plan to the T. There is not enough time for them to do so. I understand that most facilities their intention is to provide the best quality of care to each resident."

When her grandfather was placed in nursing care, she said the service was lacking, she would find him soaked in urine, or aspirating food up his nose, and over medicated.

Calls to Nottingham Village in Northumberland, Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village and Riverwoods in Lewisburg were not returned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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