5 Western Pennsylvania nursing homes among the nation’s most troubled | TribLIVE.com
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Deb Erdley

What regulators called a “persistent record of poor care” landed two Westmoreland County nursing homes and a third in Allegheny County on a waiting list as candidates for special government oversight reserved for the nation’s worst skilled care centers.

The Special Focus Facility program, which scrutinizes some of the nation’s most-troubled centers, can oversee 88 nursing homes at a time. There are four Pennsylvania homes in the category that carries a public warning label, including the Twin Lakes Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Greensburg, with 137 beds, and The Grove at North Huntingdon, with 120 beds.

New facilities can be added to the list only when a facility closes or has improved sufficiently to be removed.

This week, the public learned two other Westmoreland County nursing homes and a Pittsburgh facility are among 16 Pennsylvania nursing homes considered candidates for the program: The Grove at Latrobe; the William Penn Care Center in Penn Township; and the Corner View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood.

That list of candidates for Special Focus oversight, which includes 400 of the nation’s 15,700 nursing homes, was made public after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released them at the request of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley.

The list includes homes that state inspectors have cited repeatedly as having serious health, safety or sanitary problems, officials said.

Casey and Toomey said the public should have access to information about all of the homes, including candidates waiting for oversight.

“Despite being indistinguishable from (special focus nursing homes) in terms of their qualifications, candidates are not publicly disclosed,” they said in their report, titled “Families’ and Residents’ Right to Know: Uncovering Poor Care in America’s Nursing Homes.”

In a letter last month to Casey, CMS Administrator Seema Verma singled out federal budget problems as a factor limiting oversight.

“The total number of (special focus) slots and total number of (special focus) candidates nationally are based on the availability of federal resources,” Verma wrote. She said as recently as 2010, there was room for 167 nursing homes in the special focus program and 835 candidates. That’s now down to 88 special focus slots and 440 candidates.

The senators were adamant information about such facilities be made public.

“We’ve got to make sure any family member or any potential resident of a nursing home can get this information, not only ahead of time but on an ongoing basis,” Casey said.

“When a family makes the hard decision to seek nursing home services for a loved one, they deserve to know if a facility under consideration suffers from systemic shortcomings,” Toomey said.

About 1.3 million Americans are nursing home residents, cared for in more than 15,700 facilities. The senators’ report said problem nursing homes on both lists represent only about 3% of them.

Administrators at the North Huntingdon and Twin Lakes facilities did not return calls for comment, nor did executives at the Latrobe or Penn Township nursing homes listed as candidates for oversight.

But Rodney Brooks, nursing home administrator at the Corner View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Homewood, said the care team at the 187-bed facility in the former Pittsburgh Hospital building has been working to improve its rating. He hopes their work will lift the Allegheny County facility from the list.

“The history of this building is such that it has always been a challenge, but we have turned things around and cut our complaints by the Health Department by about 90% from last year,” he said. “We’ve built a better team, and we’re working very hard to get this building back to where it should be.”

Advocates have long been concerned about the lack of public disclosure regarding nursing homes, said Kathy Cubit, director of advocacy at the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in Philadelphia.

“Especially when you have tools like Nursing Home Compare on the CMS website, it should be disclosed,” she said.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas said he was alarmed to hear facilities in the county are on the list.

“It is certainly disappointing and alarming because we’re a pretty close-knit community in Westmoreland County. I think all of us have a family member or a relative or know someone in one of these homes,” Kopas said.

He said he was happy and relieved to see Westmoreland Manor, the county’s 400-plus bed nursing home, was not on either list.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, said she’s outraged that nursing homes in her district have failed to the point of being placed into Special Facilities Focus status or earned a spot on its waiting list.

“When I think of the families who did their due diligence and put their sacred trust for their loved ones in these nursing homes but couldn’t get this information, it makes me mad. Here you have a home that was cited nine times in two years. I think if they’re not going to take proper care of people, they shouldn’t be reimbursed,” she said.

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