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CHECK NURSING HOMES ON WEB.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

Half the 82 nursing homes in the San Fernando Valley have more than a dozen deficiencies of federal guidelines for health care, cleanliness and nutrition, according to a federal Web site launched Tuesday that tracks the nation's 17,000 nursing homes.

As a result of these types of quality-of-care problems nationwide, the federal government created the Medicare Web site and telephone help line to help consumers nationwide make wiser choices about caring for their elderly.

``This is extremely important,'' said Donna Lenhoff, executive director of the National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform. ``It means that consumers will be able to find out more information, and they will be alerted to some of the questions they need to ask about nursing homes.''

The federal consumer guide followed a statewide survey released in October that reported most nursing homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties were understaffed and failed to meet federal health and safety standards.

Of 435 nursing facilities in Los Angeles County, the report said, 79 percent failed to comply with minimum federal guidelines for health care, cleanliness and nutrition. In Ventura County, 65 percent of 23 nursing homes were deficient.

The result: Elderly nursing home residents suffer unnecessary weight loss, time in bed, bedsores, physical restraints, depression and pain.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson called the MediCare consumer project a new approach to bringing about better-quality nursing home care.

``Not only will consumers be better informed, but nursing homes themselves will be able to see more clearly what they must do to make the quality grade,'' Thompson said. ``They will have to compete in the quality arena.''

The program is an expansion of a pilot program that began earlier this year in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington state.

The government database, which formerly supplied 2-year-old information on nursing homes, now offers data on 10 categories of quality of patient care - including the ratio of residents who suffer pain, delirium, bedsores, infections and the prevalence of physical restraints - updated every three months.

Information on how many hours nurses spend each day with patients is also available, as well as the most recent health care deficiencies attributed to each facility, including failure to treat bed sores, dental problems, hearing, lack of nutrition, patient activities and other health care criteria.

Among the MediCare findings was a wealth of data on San Fernando Valley nursing homes, including:

--Ember Care MacLay Nursing Center, a for-profit facility in Sylmar, with 40 deficiencies between June 2001 and August 2002, including two for mistreatment of patients. Other deficiencies noted involved patients with bedsores, feeding tubes, nutrition and bladder control.

--Chandler Convalescent Hospital, a for-profit home in North Hollywood, with 29 deficiencies, including one for mistreatment. The home restrained 26 percent of its patients, compared with a statewide average of 18 percent and a national average of 10 percent.

--Panorama Gardens, a for-profit home in Panorama City, with 25 deficiencies, including two for mistreatment. Among residents at Panorama Gardens, 17 percent suffered bedsores, compared with a statewide average of 8 percent and a national average of 9 percent.

Medicare also marked other nursing homes as having been deficient, including: Chatsworth Park Convalescent, 25 deficiencies; Sherman Village HCC in North Hollywood, 23; Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital in North Hollywood, 22; Woodland Care Center in Reseda, 19; and Studio City Rehabilitation Center, 18.

Each deficiency caused minimal or no harm to patients and has since been corrected, according to Medicare.

Nursing homes in California averaged 11 deficiencies, and nationally, nine.

Administrators at Ember Care MacLay, Chandler Convalescent, Panorama Gardens, Sherman Village, Golden State and Woodland Care nursing facilities either were unavailable for comment or did not return phone calls.

One administrator said the buzz among nursing home heads across the state was one of hurt and indignation over mistakes in reporting on the Medicare Web site.

``We're a real nice place and we feel we do a real fine job and we're proud of what we do,'' said Jane Anderson, administrator of Chatsworth Park, which was listed with 25 deficiencies, all minimal. ``It hurts when you see that stuff out there.''

Anderson characterized the Medicare report card as inaccurate and loaded with misunderstandings and bad information.

``Nursing homes always get hit like that,'' she said. ``It's kind of a political thing.''

While Medicare published one case of mistreatment by Chatsworth Park for improper restraint, Anderson said there is no mention of it in a record of state citations in her office.

As of Oct. 1, she said, MediCare reduced reimbursement rates to nursing homes by 10 percent, to $103.54 a day - less than a family would pay to care for an elderly patient at home.

All the information supplied by Medicare is based on data that nursing homes must routinely collect from residents as part of the homes' participation in the federal program. In addition to providing consumers useful information, government officials are hoping that the new availability of information will prompt facilities to make improvements.

Some said the updated Medicare Web site is a boon to California seniors.

``The impact is tremendous, just because there are so many seniors here and so many nursing facilities, 1,400 in the state,'' said Gary Quakenbush of California Medical Review Inc., which conducts educational outreach and training for Medicare.

``If you're trying to select a nursing facility for your mom or dad, this will help.''

As of 2000, there were 136,822 seniors 65 or older in the San Fernando Valley, or 10 percent of the Valley's population, and 34,150 who were older than 80, according to U.S. Census figures.

``In the long run, the real goal for consumers is to raise the level of quality, to raise the whole level of debate,'' said Tom Scully, the Medicare agency's administrator.

Nursing homes that want to improve their performance can get help from quality-improvement organizations based in each state and under contract with Medicare.

Despite the early accolades, advocates warn that consumers should not choose a home solely on the new information. Visiting the facility, talking to residents and getting information from the long-term care ombudsmen's office in each state are still recommended.

``Consumers should take the time to investigate thoroughly,'' said James G. Parkel, president of AARP, the nation's largest lobbying group for senior citizens. ``Nursing home residents are the most vulnerable of all older Americans. We have a duty ... to promote their quality of life.''

Said Thompson: ``This is a broad-scale effort, and it will grow and improve over time, with improving data and new levels of collaboration to help nursing homes ensure high-quality care.''

A WEB GUIDE TO NURSING HOMES

Medicare's Nursing Home Compare, launched Tuesday in English and Spanish: www.medicare.gov/NHCompare/home.asp or by calling (800) MEDICARE.

California Nursing Home Search, launched last month: www.calnhs.org.

National Citizen's Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, consumer advocates: www.nursinghomeaction.com/.

CAPTION(S):

2 boxes

Box:

(1) A WEB GUIDE TO NURSING HOMES (see text)

(2) NURSING HOME COMPARISON
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Nov 13, 2002
Words:1178
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