What’s going on with nursing homes in the news?

There has been an unusually large amount of bad publicity for long-term care providers in local news media recently—a poorly timed coincidence, considering the industry is trying to sway public opinion with counter measures against a certain spending bill and further cuts.

The Detroit Free Press earlier this week ran a provocative overview on the state of Michigan nursing home quality. It’s a package of stories filled with disturbing anecdotes of poor care in troubled facilities that should be closed, but probably won’t be.

Impetus for the reporting is evident in the first story. There’s this:

“Three out of four homes were cited in the last three years for serious violations that harmed residents or put them in immediate jeopardy. In fact, Michigan inspectors handed out serious citations nearly twice as often as the national average.”

And this:

“Over a recent, 34-month period analyzed by the Free Press, Michigan nursing homes accumulated $9.9 million in federal fines, the most of any state.”

The Free Press would be faulted for not covering this to some extent. And the story arc they’ve chosen across the three main articles makes sense: Michigan has a nursing home quality problem; the poorest performers are allowed to continue operating; and the only way to turn around those bad situations is to foster a dedicated, incentivized staff. It is a sad and at times gruesome collection of stories, but I believe it is the last piece, focusing on quality staffing, which should have received far more attention.

However, if quality staffing is the solution, don’t look toward Minnesota to be leading that effort, as a recent Star Tribune report shows. An investigation found the state has granted more than 15,000 waivers to former criminals seeking employment in nursing homes and other state-regulated care programs.

“State regulators said they don't know how many of those ex-criminals actually went to work in nursing homes and other facilities because they don't track that information,” the report states. “They also don't follow how many of those individuals subsequently harmed their vulnerable clients or committed additional crimes.”

The amount of trust issues this story creates is truly in excess, as the public should be both angry toward the state and discerning toward their nursing homes. And could you blame them? It’s one thing to be lazy about criminal background checks, but granting waivers takes this all to a different level, one from which nursing homes can’t afford to be associated with at this time.

Provider groups are absolutely incensed over the payment changes hitting the industry. The American Health Care Association and the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care are pumping out financial reports and pleading for reprieve as Congress seems poised to turn its back on skilled nursing facilities. Can the industry suffer more media reports denigrating its quality and undermining its importance to the nation?

Likewise, it is quality by which referral sources, hospitals and eventually accountable care organizations will grade nursing homes to partner with and do business. As Long-Term Living blogger Luke Fannon writes this week, “Negative reputations can happen catastrophically or gradually over an extended period of time.” While that sentiment was applied to individual facilities, the same is true for the industry as a whole. And this couldn’t be a worse time for bad press.

Topics: Medicare/Medicaid