"Gripes grow at nursing homes"
Daily News – Los Angeles
By Susan Abram, Staff Writer
Updated: 12/29/2008 01:26:27 AM PST
Complaints against nursing homes in the San Fernando Valley rose 47 percent in the past year, outpacing a statewide trend and indicating an elderly population that experts said is more inclined to demand better care.
With the nearly 60 Valley skilled nursing homes registered with the California Department of Public Health, there were 358 complaints filed this year, compared with 243 last year.
In 2004, there were 227 complaints, meaning the number has risen 58 percent in four years.
Statewide, complaints rose from 5,742 in 2004 to 6,950 in 2008 - or a 21 percent jump.
Some say the increase is a result of a consumer-driven society that expects better care.
"We've become a Nordstrom society," said Anne Burns Johnson, chairwoman for Aging Services of California, which represents 400 members of the nonprofit nursing homes. "We expect a certain level of customer service."
Patients logged complaints for everything from injuries and infection to nursing and overall quality of life. The numbers suggest more violations, although the jump could simply be attributed to more scrutiny. More than 200 of the complaints filed this year were unsubstantiated.
"In the last several years, the Department's Licensing and Certification Program has increased its staff and responds to complaints in a prompt and timely manner," said Ralph Montano, spokesman for the state's Department of Public Health.
For fiscal year 2006-07, the state employed 141 licensed inspectors. Funding by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007-08 allowed another 60, Montano said.
The increase in complaints comes from a population that is better informed about their rights as health-care consumers, he said. Plus, people have gained more confidence in filing complaints, though some advocacy groups say the process is still complex - and sometimes even discouraged - in nursing homes, he said.
Among the Valley nursing homes where complaints increased, the Sherman Oaks Health and Rehabilitation Center logged 34 in 2008, compared with just seven in 2004. Of those 34 complaints, 12 were substantiated or found to be true for reasons that included quality of care, nursing services, dietary services, physical environment and resident/patient/client rights.
The California Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Van Nuys logged 26 complaints this year compared with nine in 2004. Of the 26 complaints, 19 were substantiated for injury of unknown origin, infection control, pharmaceutical services and quality of life.
And the Imperial Care Center in Studio City received 10 complaints in 2008 compared with one in 2005, the last year for which data were available. Of the 10 this year, four were substantiated.
All three are managed by the Los Angeles-based Longwood Management Corp. The company also oversees homes in Burbank and Glendale.
Calls and an e-mail sent to the company seeking comments were not returned.
State officials did not immediately have information on whether the problems were corrected.
Some nursing homes saw a decrease in the number of complaints, including Sylmar Health and Rehabilitation Center, where four complaints were logged this year compared with 18 in 2004.
The news on local nursing homes comes as the federal government earlier this month unveiled a system that ranks them based on a five-star system. The rankings can be found at www.medicare.gov.
Stars are handed out based on state inspections, staffing levels and quality measures, which include the percentage of residents with bed sores.
Critics within the nursing home industry and those who advocate for patient care both say the system falls short in providing details of how the stars were handed out.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich wants to see nursing homes post letter grades, much like the decade-old restaurant grading system. That would allow nursing home operators who provide excellent care to publicize their A grade, said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell.
While the county Board of Supervisors has passed a motion to get the program going, it can only be implemented if state legislators approve it because inspectors working in L.A. County do so on behalf of the state. So far, no state legislator has stepped up to author the bill.
Meanwhile, the group Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, which once sued the state for failing to investigate nursing home complaints quickly enough, says filing complaints will become harder because Schwarzenegger cut $3.8 million for ombudsman services in October.
The ombudsman program investigates elder abuse and other complaints on behalf of residents of the state's 1,300 nursing homes and more than 8,000 assisted living facilities.
The group says nursing homes in rural parts of the state face greater risk of being neglected.
The cuts came a month after a widely published report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found more than 90 percent of nursing homes violated federal standards in 2007 and about 17 percent had deficiencies that caused actual harm or immediate jeopardy to residents.
Some associations that represent the nursing home industry say complaints against the homes could decrease as they evolve to cater to the aging baby boomer generation.
The trend is moving away from convalescent care to services that allow people to live at home longer. And baby boomers are used to higher standards in customer service, Johnson said.
The nonprofit industry has discussed a "pay for performance" model that would reward good skilled nursing homes, she said.
But then she added, "I think the issue is we really need to be looking at different models of care."