Here at AgingOptions, we often talk about how most retirees would do almost anything to avoid being forced into a nursing home as they age. Still, a large number of seniors will find themselves in institutional care someday. While the residents may have to sacrifice some of their independence and mobility, the nursing homes are supposed to offer residents a safe environment in which even the frailest of residents can live out their lives with a sense of security. But are the nursing homes living up to their end of the bargain?
Nursing Home Safety: Many California Nursing Homes Failed the Test
According to this article which we found a few weeks ago on the Kaiser Health News website, written by reporter Barbara Ostrov, too often the answer is no. Ostrov reported on a series of safety inspections performed by federal health officials last fall in California. These inspectors focused their scrutiny on 20 nursing homes that were located in areas considered vulnerable to wildfires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. The Kaiser report said this thorough safety review gained added urgency because some of the inspections took place while fires were actually burning in the same general vicinity. The surprise inspections were performed between September and December 2018.
The results, says Kaiser Health News, were disturbing. “Inspectors found hundreds of potentially life-threatening violations of safety and emergency requirements, including blocked emergency exit doors, unsafe use of power strips and extension cords, and inadequate fuel for emergency generators,” according to a comprehensive 27-page report just released by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the words of the report, the nursing home residents “were at increased risk of injury or death during a fire or other emergency.” In large type on the cover page of the report appear these words in all-caps: “CALIFORNIA SHOULD IMPROVE ITS OVERSIGHT OF SELECTED NURSING HOMES’ COMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR LIFE SAFETY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS.”
Nursing Home Safety: Natural and Man-Made Disasters Can Happen Anywhere
Families and residents should be concerned by the scope of this report since, as the article states, the threat is not theoretical. California certainly has its share of disasters – in fact, says Kaiser, one of the nursing homes that was inspected actually burned to the ground in a wildfire not long afterward, fortunately with no loss of life. While disasters can take place practically anywhere, still the devastation caused by the California fires made the report especially ominous. “The fact that one of the nursing homes inspected was later destroyed by a wildfire speaks to the grave danger residents are facing today,” said Mike Connors of the advocacy group California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. He called the findings alarming but not surprising.
The nursing home industry naturally disputes the findings. Craig Cornett, head of the California Association of Health Facilities, told Kaiser Health News that the state’s nursing homes are actually quite safe. The 2018 fire, known as the Camp Fire, that destroyed one of the inspected facilities was the deadliest wildfire in state history, yet no residents were injured, and all were evacuated safely. As the Kaiser article quoted Cornett, “Hundreds of other nursing homes also have responded to emergencies in the past three years without loss of life, he said, which shows that ‘the deficiencies in the report do not reflect true facility readiness.’” He accused federal bureaucrats for wearing “blinders” in their safety inspection protocol.
Nursing Home Safety: A Laundry List of Violations
The regimen of stiffer safety inspections is certainly not limited to the Golden State. “The Office of Inspector General is auditing nursing homes across the nation that receive payments from Medicare or Medicaid to determine whether the facilities meet the stricter federal safety and emergency guidelines that were adopted in 2016,” Kaiser’s Ostrov reports. Some of the nursing homes cited in the California report had already been cited for health and safety violations. In all, the OIG inspectors uncovered 325 violations at the 19 homes, including:
- Blocked emergency exits, including one exit door blocked by a pallet;
- Many failures to regularly test and maintain fire alarm and sprinkler systems;
- Electrical equipment violations in every inspected home, including unsafe use of power strips and extension cords;
- Failure to test and maintain emergency generators, including two of the homes which had failed to stockpile the required amount of fuel, a critical issue in a state where electrical power has been periodically shut down in an effort to prevent wildfires.
Nursing Home Safety: Arm Yourself With Good Information
Getting good objective facts about nursing homes can be time consuming. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services maintains the Nursing Home Compare website which allows consumers to search and compare facilities by zip code, and the site’s one-to-five-star rating system can be helpful, but it doesn’t always tell the whole story, and it may not reveal some of the potential safety problems cited in the Kaiser report. It’s best to visit the homes you’re considering and see for yourself. Try to talk with residents when the salesperson or director isn’t around. If possible, visit on a weekend or during the evening when staffing levels might be lower. But another excellent option is to enlist the services of a geriatric care manager. Call us at AgingOptions and we can put you in touch with one of these trained, objective professionals. They can make your search for the perfect facility far easier and more productive.
Families Need to Plan Ahead
The subject of nursing homes is a huge reminder of the need for families to plan ahead, and to have heart to heart conversations about topics which we realize can get emotional. We suggest you contact us at AgingOptions and ask about having us host a family conference for you in one of our offices. These can be a powerful way for families to better understand one another concerning a wide range of topics related to aging, caregiving and estate planning.
Of course, the best retirement plan is not one-dimensional. Besides communicating with your family, retiring well implies that your finances are sound, your legal protection is sure, your housing plans are carefully laid and your medical needs are met (both immediate and long-term). This kind of plan is called a LifePlan, and it’s exclusively offered by AgingOptions. Please accept our invitation and join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar where you’ll get many of your retirement questions answered as you learn more about the power of a LifePlan. For a calendar of upcoming dates and locations, visit our Live Events page and register for the seminar of your choice, or call us this week for assistance. Where you spend your final days is important, but living well is the key, and the best way to do that is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at www.khn.com)