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Spotlight on Tennessee nursing homes

Published on December 19th, 2007

There is a great article at Tennessean.com about dozens of deficient Tennessee nursing homes that have been closed or fined as a result of neglect including drug dealers visiting The Cornelia House nursing home to sell crack to employees and residents; at Mitchell Manor, patients went without necessary pain medication for a week because the facility was out; and at McKendree Village, staffing shortages caused multiple problems, such as one patient lying in his own feces for 3½ hours, despite pushing the call light five times.

"Things aren’t right here," one Cornelia House resident told a state inspector. "Residents are buying drugs almost every night. … Staff are aware but don’t do anything. The patients are left wet and not taken care of." 

The 159-bed Cornelia House and the 42-bed Mitchell Manor have closed since losing tax payer funding. The 300-bed McKendree is still open to private-pay residents, but 200 of its residents dependent on federal funding must find a new place to live by Dec. 29.   However, plenty of nursing homes in Tennessee have been identified as having serious violations without losing funding. 

While lots of facilities have been cited with these serious violations, the facilities that lost their funding were unable to fix the problems within the reasonable time given or were unable to stay in compliance.

"These facilities were afforded the same number of days as others across the country to develop and implement a plan to correct the violations, maintaining an appropriate standard of care for residents," said Christy Allen, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, Bureau of Health Licensure and Regulation.

The Cornelia House has had a history of problems.  For the last four  years, the nursing home was repeatedly cited with immediate jeopardy violations. Inspection reports show that residents had wallets and clothes stolen; patients were observed smoking crack; residents were told to go to the bathroom in their pants; and their health-care needs weren’t attended to, among other problems.

Officials with McKendree Village declined to be interviewed for this story. However, they assert that  the issues identified by the state have not resulted in any "actual harm".

They say that many of the state’s findings are related to documentation. For example, the inspectors found that the facility failed to investigate the cause of injuries for 11 of 42 residents to ensure that abuse or negligence had not occurred. However, they argue that doesn’t mean that abuse or negligence did occur.  Well, if they didn’t investigate, how do we know?

The Health Department’s Allen said immediate jeopardy is determined through a multi-tiered process of checks and balances that includes state and federal officials. 

According to the state inspection reports, many residents weren’t happy with the care they received. The documents show the facility was short-staffed and that contract employees in particular didn’t receive proper training and sometimes neglected patients.  Another said staffers respond like snails to call lights, but "break their necks" when state inspectors are on the prowl.

"We need TLC, not being stomped on," one resident said.

Joe Pioletti
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