Article: Nursing Homes Routinely Mask Low Staff Levels

Via New York Times By Jordan Rau

ITHACA, N.Y. — Most nursing homes had fewer nurses and caretaking staff than they had reported to the government for years, according to new federal data, bolstering the long-held suspicions of many families that staffing levels were often inadequate.

The records for the first time reveal frequent and significant fluctuations in day-to-day staffing, with particularly large shortfalls on weekends. On the worst staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest.

The data, analyzed by Kaiser Health News, come from daily payroll records Medicare only recently began gathering and publishing from more than 14,000 nursing homes, as required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Medicare previously had been rating each facility’s staffing levels based on the homes’ own unverified reports, making it possible to game the system.

The payroll records provide the strongest evidence that over the last decade, the government’s five-star rating system for nursing homes often exaggerated staffing levels and rarely identified the periods of thin staffing that were common. Medicare is now relying on the new data to evaluate staffing, but the revamped star ratings still mask the erratic levels of people working from day to day.

Stan Hugo with his wife, Donna, who is a resident at the Beechtree 
Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Ithaca, N.Y. Mr. Hugo 
tracks staffing levels at the skilled nursing facility.

At the Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing here, Jay Vandemark, 47, who had a stroke last year, said he often roams the halls looking for an aide not already swamped with work when he needs help putting on his shirt.

Especially on weekends, he said, “It’s almost like a ghost town.”

Nearly 1.4 million people are cared for in skilled nursing facilities in the United States. When nursing homes are short of staff, nurses and aides scramble to deliver meals, ferry bedbound residents to the bathroom and answer calls for pain medication. Essential medical tasks such as repositioning a patient to avert bedsores can be overlooked when workers are overburdened, sometimes leading to avoidable hospitalizations.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits >

“Volatility means there are gaps in care,” said David Stevenson, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s not like the day-to-day life of nursing home residents and their needs vary substantially on a weekend and a weekday. They need to get dressed, to bathe and to eat every single day.”

David Gifford, a senior vice president at the American Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, disagreed, saying there are legitimate reasons staffing varies. On weekends, for instance, there are fewer activities for residents and more family members around, he said.

“While staffing is important, what really matters is what the overall outcomes are,” he said.

While Medicare does not set a minimum resident-to-staff ratio, it does require the presence of a registered nurse for eight hours a day and a licensed nurse at all times.

The payroll records show that even facilities that Medicare rated positively for staffing levels on its Nursing Home Compare website, including Beechtree, were short nurses and aides on some days. On its best staffed days, Beechtree had one aide for every eight residents, while on its lowest staffed days, there was only one aide for 18 residents. Nursing levels also varied.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing home inspections, said in a statement that it “is concerned and taking steps to address fluctuations in staffing levels” that have emerged from the new data. This month, it said it would lower ratings for nursing homes that had gone seven or more days without a registered nurse.

Beechtree’s payroll records showed similar staffing levels to those it had reported before. David Camerota, chief operating officer of Upstate Services Group, the for-profit chain that owns Beechtree, said in a statement that the facility has enough nurses and aides to properly care for its 120 residents. But, he said, like other nursing homes, Beechtree is in “a constant battle” to recruit and retain employees even as it has increased pay to be more competitive.

Mr. Camerota wrote that weekend staffing is a special challenge as employees are guaranteed every other weekend off. “This impacts our ability to have as many staff as we would really like to have,” he wrote.

New rating method is still flawed

In April, the government started using daily payroll reports to calculate average staffing ratings, replacing the old method, which relied on homes to report staffing for the two weeks before an inspection. The homes sometimes anticipated when an inspection would happen and could staff up before it.

Payroll records at Beechtree show that on its highest staffed days, it had one aide for every eight residents, but there was only one aide for 18 residents at the lowest staffing level.CreditHeather Ainsworth for The New York Times

“They get burned out and they quit,” said Adam Chandler, whose mother lived at Beachtree until her death earlier this year. “It’s been constant turmoil, and it never ends.”

Medicare’s payroll records for the nursing homes showed that there were, on average, 11 percent fewer nurses providing direct care on weekends and 8 percent fewer aides. Staffing levels fluctuated substantially during the week as well, when an aide at a typical home might have to care for as few as nine residents or as many as 14.

 

A family council forms

Beechtree actually gets its best Medicare rating in the category of staffing, with four stars. (Its inspection citations and the frequency of declines in residents’ health dragged its overall star rating down to two of five.)

To Stan Hugo, a retired math teacher whose wife, Donna, 80, lives at Beechtree, staffing levels have long seemed inadequate. In 2017, he and a handful of other residents and family members became so dissatisfied that they formed a council to scrutinize the home’s operation. Medicare requires nursing home administrators to listen to such councils’ grievances and recommendations.

Sandy Ferreira, who makes health care decisions for Effie Hamilton, a blind resident, said Ms. Hamilton broke her arm falling out of bed and has been hospitalized for dehydration and septic shock.

“Almost every problem we’ve had on the floor is one that could have been alleviated with enough and well-trained staff,” Mrs. Ferreira said.

Beechtree declined to discuss individual residents, but said it had investigated these complaints and did not find inadequate staffing on those days. Mr. Camerota also said that Medicare does not count assistants it hires to handle the simplest duties like making beds.

In recent months, Mr. Camerota said, Beechtree “has made major strides in listening to and addressing concerns related to staffing at the facility.”

Mr. Hugo agreed that Beechtree has increased daytime staffing during the week under the prodding of his council. On nights and weekends, he said, it still remained too low.

His wife has Alzheimer’s, uses a wheelchair and no longer talks. She enjoys music, and Mr. Hugo placed earphones on her head so she could listen to her favorite singers as he spoon-fed her lunch in the dining room on a recent Sunday.

As he does each day he visits, he counted each nursing assistant he saw tending residents, took a photograph of the official staffing log in the lobby and compared it to what he had observed. While he fed his wife, he noted two aides for the 40 residents on the floor — half what Medicare says is average at Beechtree.

“Weekends are terrible,” he said. While he’s regularly there overseeing his wife’s care, he wondered: “What about all these other residents? They don’t have people who come in.”

This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The author is a reporter for Kaiser Health News.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Nursing Homes Routinely Mask Low Staff Levels. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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How To Spot Nursing Home Neglect Or Abuse?

justice engraved on courthouse

Nursing home neglect and abuse is often difficult to detect, and families should be on the lookout for common warning signs for physical, emotional and financial abuse.

Common warning signs of physical abuse are:

  • Untreated bedsores, pressure sores, wounds, cuts, bruises, or welts
  • Abnormally pale complexion
  • Bruises in a pattern that would suggest restraints
  • Excessive and sudden weight loss
  • Fleas, lice, or dirt on or in the room
  • Poor personal hygiene, unpleasant odors or other unattended health problems
  • Torn clothing or broken personal items
  • Bleeding around private parts
  • Bloody undergarments
  • Bruises around the breast/genital region
  • An unexpected look of fear from the elder when aide may be present

Common warning signs of emotional abuse are:

  • Intimidation through yelling and threats
  • Humiliation
  • Ignoring the patient
  • Isolating the patient from other residents and/or activities
  • Terrorizing the patient
  • Mocking the patient

Financial exploitation is another form of abuse. An unscrupulous caregiver may:

  • Misuse checks, accounts, or credit cards
  • Steal money, steal checks, or steal belongings
  • Forge signatures
  • Authorize withdrawals or transfer of monies
  • Steal the patient’s identity

No family is exempt from any of these possibilities. Abuse affects the rich and poor. Suffering sustained by the elderly ranges from financial, to emotional and physical. Abuse escalating to physical can result in severe infections, amputations, dehydration and, unfortunately, death. A lawsuit should be filed on behalf of your loved one to get the justice your family deserves. Compensation may cover the costs of treatment and recovery, as well as compensation for non-financial hardships such as pain and suffering.

If you suspect elder abuse of any kind speak up and demand answers of those in charge.

Feel free to contact me for more information or inquire about a lawsuit.

Sincerely,

Brian

Batter up! In the Bronx, Stadium Scents Take Fans Out to the Ballgame

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Gilbert Marcus, 80, smelled the scent of a hot dog, one of six familiar smells from baseball stadiums that are part of an olfactory exhibition at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, a nursing home in the Bronx. Credit Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Rochelle Youner, who lives at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, a nursing home in the Bronx, walked up to a kiosk in a common area of the home’s first floor and pressed a button below a small icon depicting a baseball glove.

“That’s the real stuff — that’s a mitt, all right,” Ms. Youner, 80, said, smelling the leathery fragrance emitted from the kiosk, which attempts to bring the ballpark, or at least the smell of it, to the residents.

Many of the Hebrew Home’s residents were born and raised in the Bronx and are lifelong fans of the Yankees, with memories of visiting Yankee Stadium stretching back to the eras of Mantle and DiMaggio, and even earlier to Gehrig and Ruth.

But many of these older fans also suffer age-related memory loss. So the home, which often finds seasonal pegs for its reminiscence therapy programs, has timed its latest program to opening day at Yankee Stadium on Monday by erecting the kiosk with the therapeutic goal of recreating the distinctive smell of the ballpark.

“Too bad we can’t be there in person,” Ms. Youner said.

This is the point of the kiosk: to once again take these fans out to the ballgame.

For residents who followed the Dodgers, the scents recalled childhood days at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and for Giants baseball fans, they brought back afternoons at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, in the days before both teams decamped for the West Coast.

The kiosk features six ballpark scents — hot dogs, popcorn, beer, grass, cola and the mitt — in separate push-button dispensers installed at a height accessible to residents in wheelchairs.

It was recently installed in the permanent “Yankees Dugout” exhibition of team memorabilia at the nursing home, which includes seats, a turnstile and a locker from the old Yankee Stadium.

The olfactory exhibit, called “Scents of the Game,” is meant to evoke long-forgotten memories from the home’s 785 residents, many of whom have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Many have difficulty with short-term memories but with some prompting can summon long-term ones, such as detailed recollections of childhood visits to ballparks decades ago, said Mary Farkas, director of therapeutic arts and enrichment programs at the Hebrew Home, where baseball has also been used in art therapy and poetry workshops.

Prompting these ballpark memories helps connect many residents with the joy they felt at the time and also helps stimulate their cognition, Mrs. Farkas said.

Dr. Mark W. Albers, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who studies the effect of scent on patients with neurodegenerative disease, said the Hebrew Home’s memory exhibit touches on fairly new territory in sensory therapy in trying to resurrect positive recollections in a small population of patients who share certain common memories.

Photo

Joe Pepitone, a former player for the Yankees, spoke during the unveiling of the “Scents of the Game” exhibit at the Hebrew Home. CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

Memory loss in older patients can often cause “an erosion of familiarity” and be accompanied by feelings of disorientation, he said. Unearthing pleasant memories from earlier years through sensory stimulation may help patients feel more stable, Dr. Albers said.

Of course, he added, memories of Yankee Stadium might bring back very different emotions for fans like him, who root for the Boston Red Sox.

Continue reading the main story on NYT

For Renee Babenzien, 89, the hot dog aroma triggered recollections of vendors selling franks with mustard and sauerkraut.

“The way they smelled at the game,” she said, “you couldn’t help but stop the guy walking up the aisle selling hot dogs.”

Al Cappiello, 68, smelled the fragrances and recalled the sensory explosion he experienced the first time he walked into Yankee Stadium as a boy.

“I couldn’t believe the colors,” he recalled. “The green grass, the brown dirt of the infield — man, I was in heaven.”

Up until then, he said, watching the Yankees meant watching games on a black-and-white television set, with the action being called by Mel Allen, the Yankees broadcaster.

And so, during his first time at the stadium, Mr. Cappiello recalled, “I told my brother, ‘I don’t hear Mel Allen,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s only on TV.’

He did see Yogi Berra, tossing a ball with teammate Johnny Blanchard, and he managed to get Berra’s autograph.

Ms. Youner also recalled being surprised by how different the ballpark seemed in person.

“The first time I walked into the ballpark, I noticed that everything was bigger — even the basepaths were so much wider,” she said.

For Terry Gioffere, 90, who grew up in the Bronx, the smells evoked memories of watching her hero, Roger Maris — although in more recent decades she became a Derek Jeter disciple.

For Joan Jackson, 84, the smells took her back to her first trip to Yankee Stadium, at age 6, but also reminded her of the role that the stadium played in helping her raise five children in the Bronx after her husband died in 1973.

“I had to do something to lift the kids up, so I said, ‘Let’s do something fun and go to Yankee Stadium,’” she recalled. “The kids fell in love with baseball,” she said, and going to games helped hold the family together.

Even Joe Pepitone, a star for the Yankees in the 1960s who spoke at the kiosk’s recent unveiling, said the smells reminded him of playing in Yankee Stadium as a rookie first baseman in 1962.

He had anticipated that the stadium would smell like hot dogs and sauerkraut, he said, “and sure enough, there was that smell of the ballpark, and you could smell it all over.”

For Frances Freeman, who grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Dodgers, the kiosk’s beer smell did provoke a reaction. The 103-year-old woman steered her wheelchair to the beverage table and grabbed a beer.

Since scent and memory are intimately linked, using the smells of the ballpark presented “a chance to reach the residents in a special way, as a tool to unlock doors in their memories,” said David V. Pomeranz, the Hebrew Home’s chief operating officer.

Mr. Pomeranz said the kiosk idea grew out of a discussion he had with Andreas Fibig, chief executive of International Flavors and Fragrances, a Manhattan-based company that creates scents for perfumes and other products, as well as flavors for food and beverages.

The company did not have to venture to any ballpark to capture the smells — its perfumers created them from the firm’s vast catalog of fragrances, said Matthias Tabert, the company’s senior manager for strategic insights.

Scents are especially powerful in stirring memories because they register with the brain in a more direct and primal way than other senses, Mr. Tabert said. “So when you smell something, it triggers memories almost instantaneously and serves almost like time travel, to bring you back to a seminal moment.”

Some ballpark staples did not make it into the array of scents, such as peanuts and Cracker Jack. Though both could be developed as fragrances with no traces of real peanuts, the home decided against it to avoid alarming people with peanut allergies, Mr. Pomeranz said.

For Al Schwartz, 91, the scent kiosk reminded him of first visiting Yankee Stadium in the late 1930s, when 60 cents could buy a seat in the bleachers and $1.10 a seat in the grandstand.

Mr. Schwartz said the smells reminded him of the joy of watching Joe DiMaggio snare a fly ball and the sadness of learning in 1979 that Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had died in an airplane crash.

Mr. Schwartz said he attended at least two monumental events at Yankee Stadium. His aunt took him on July 4, 1939, when Lou Gehrig announced his retirement because of a terminal disease and called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Mr. Schwartz also recalled a 1942 charity exhibition in which Babe Ruth made a post-retirement appearance and struggled to hit a home run against the great pitcher Walter Johnson in front of 70,000 fans.

“The crowd kept on him, and he finally hit it out of the park, to right field,” he recalled. “The best part was seeing him run around the bases, that way he used to.”

Should you sign that Nursing Home Admissions Agreement you were given?

elder law news
Read the agreement carefully before signing.
Nursing Home Agreements can be complicated and confusing

Admitting a loved one to a nursing home can be very stressful. In addition to dealing with a sick family member and managing all the details involved with the move, you must decide whether to sign all the papers the nursing home is giving you. You don’t need to decide at the moment or alone. Nursing home admission agreements can be complicated and confusing, so what do you do?

It is important not to rush, but rather to read. If possible, have your attorney review the agreement before signing it. Read the agreement carefully because it could contain illegal or misleading provisions. Try not to sign the agreement until after the resident has moved into the facility. Once a resident has moved in, you will have much more leverage. But even if you have to sign the agreement before the resident moves in, you should still request that the nursing home delete any illegal or unfair terms.

Two items commonly found in these agreements that you need to pay close attention to are a requirement that you be liable for the resident’s expenses and a binding arbitration agreement.

The Responsible party
A nursing home may try to get you to sign the agreement as the “responsible party.” It is very important that you do not agree to this. Nursing homes are prohibited from requiring third parties to guarantee payment of nursing home bills, but many try to get family members to voluntarily agree to pay the bills.

If possible, the resident should sign the agreement him- or herself. If the resident is incapacitated, you may sign the agreement, but be clear you are signing as the resident’s agent. Cross out the words ‘responsible party’. Don’t think because it is printed the whole document will need to be re-done. Signing the agreement as a responsible party may obligate you to pay the nursing home if the nursing resident is unable to. Look over the agreement for the term “responsible party,” “guarantor,” “financial agent,” or anything similar. Before signing, cross out any terms that indicate you will be responsible for payment and clearly indicate that you are only agreeing to use the resident’s income and resources to pay.

Arbitration provision
Many nursing home admission agreements contain a provision stating that all disputes regarding the resident’s care will be decided through arbitration. An arbitration provision is not illegal, but by signing it, you are giving up your right to go to court to resolve a dispute with the facility. The nursing home cannot require you to sign an arbitration provision, and you should cross out the arbitration language before signing.

Other provisions
The following are some other provisions to look out for in a nursing home admission agreement.

Private pay requirement. It is illegal for the nursing home to require a Medicare or Medicaid recipient to pay the private rate for a period of time. The nursing home also cannot require a resident to affirm that he or she is not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.
Eviction procedures. It is illegal for the nursing home to authorize eviction for any reason other than the following: the nursing home cannot meet the resident’s needs, the resident’s heath has improved, the resident’s presence is endangering other residents, the resident has not paid, or the nursing home is ceasing operations.
Waiver of rights. Any provision that waives the nursing home’s liability for lost or stolen personal items is illegal. It is also illegal for the nursing home to waive liability for the resident’s health.

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For more information regarding this article feel free to contact me.

Regards, Brian
Brian A. Raphan, P.C.
7 Penn Plaza   |   7th Ave/31st Street   |   New York, NY 10001
212-268-8200  braphan@raphanlaw.com
http://www.raphanlaw.com

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New Protections for Nursing Home Residents

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New Obama-era rules designed to give nursing home residents more control of their care are gradually going into effect. The rules give residents more options regarding meals and visitation as well as make changes to discharge and grievance procedures.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid finalized the rules — the first comprehensive update to nursing home regulations since 1991 — in November 2016. The first group of new rules took effect in November; the rest will be phased in over the next two years.

Here are some of the new rules now in effect:

  • Visitors. The new rules allow residents to have visitors of the resident’s choosing and at the time the resident wants, meaning the facility cannot impose visiting hours. There are also rules about who must have immediate access to a resident, including a resident’s representative. For more information, click here.
  • Meals. Nursing homes must make meals and snacks available when residents want to eat, not just at designated meal times.
  • Roommates. Residents can choose their roommate as long as both parties agree.
  • Grievances. Each nursing home must designate a grievance official whose job it is to make sure grievances are properly resolved. In addition, residents must be free from the fear of discrimination for filing a grievance. The nursing home also has to put grievance decisions in writing. For more information, click here.
  • Transfer and Discharge. The new rules require more documentation from a resident’s physician before the nursing home can transfer or discharge a resident based on an inability to meet the resident’s needs. The nursing home also cannot discharge a patient for nonpayment if Medicaid is considering a payment claim. For more information, click here.

CMS also enacted a rule forbidding nursing homes from entering into binding arbitration agreements with residents or their representatives before a dispute arises.  However,a nursing home association sued to block the new rule and a U.S. district court has granted an injunction temporarily preventing CMS from implementing it.  The Trump Administration is reportedly planning to lift this ban on nursing home arbitration clauses.

In November 2017, rules regarding facility assessment, psychotropic drugs and medication review, and care plans, among others, will go into effect. The final set of regulations covering infection control and ethics programs will take effect in November 2019.

To read the rules, click here.

Top 10 Elder Law decisions of 2016

Below, in chronological order, is ElderLawAnswers’ annual roundup of the top 10 elder law decisions for the year just ended, as measured by the number of “unique page views” of our summary of the case.

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1. Medicaid Applicant’s Irrevocable Trust Is an Available Resource Because Trustee Can Make Distributions

An Alabama appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s special needs trust is an available resource because the trustee had discretion to make payments under the trust. Alabama Medicaid Agency v. Hardy (Ala. Civ. App., No. 2140565, Jan. 29, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

2. Trust Is an Available Asset Because Trustees Have Discretion to Make Distributions

A New York appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s trust is an available asset because the trustees have discretion to make distributions to her. In the Matter of Frances Flannery v. Zucker (N.Y. Sup. Ct., App. Div., 4th Dept., No. TP 15-01033, Feb. 11, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

3. Medicaid Applicant Who Transferred Assets in Exchange for Promissory Note May Proceed with Suit Against State

A U.S. district court holds that a Medicaid applicant who was denied Medicaid benefits after transferring assets to her children in exchange for a promissory note may proceed with her claim against the state because Medicaid law confers a private right of action and the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the claim. Ansley v. Lake (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Okla., No. CIV-14-1383-D, March 9, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

4. Mass. Court Bridles at Allegations in Request for Reconsideration in Irrevocable Trust Case

In a strongly worded response to a Medicaid applicant’s request for reconsideration of an unsuccessful appeal involving an irrevocable trust, a Massachusetts trial court strikes the applicant’s pleadings after it takes great exception to the tone of the argument.  Daley v. Sudders (Mass.Super.Ct., No.15-CV-0188-D, March 28, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

5. Caretaker Exception Denied Because Child Did Not Provide Continuous Care

A New Jersey appeals court determines that the caretaker child exception does not apply to a Medicaid applicant who transferred her house to her daughter because the daughter did not provide continuous care for the two years before the Medicaid applicant entered a nursing home. M.K. v. Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (N.J. Super. Ct., App. Div., No. A-0790-14T3, May 13, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

6. State Can Place Lien on Medicaid Recipient’s Life Estate After Recipient Dies

An Ohio appeals court rules that a deceased Medicaid recipient’s life estate does not extinguish at death for the purposes of Medicaid estate recovery, so the state may place a lien on the property. Phillips v. McCarthy (Ohio Ct. App., 12th Dist., No. CA2015-08-01, May 16, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

7. Attorney Liable to Third-Party Beneficiary of Will for Legal Malpractice

Virginia’s highest court rules that an intended third-party beneficiary of a will may sue the attorney who drafted the will for legal malpractice. Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Va., No. 150528, June 2, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

8. Nursing Home’s Fraudulent Transfer Claim Against Resident’s Sons Can Move Forward

A U.S. district court rules that a nursing home can proceed with its case against the sons of a resident who transferred the resident’s funds to themselves because the fraudulent transfer claim survived the resident’s death. Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC v. Estate of Barbara Nyce (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Vt., No. 5:16-cv-73, June 21, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

9. Irrevocable Trust Is Available Asset Because Medicaid Applicant Retained Some Control

New Hampshire’s highest court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s irrevocable trust is an available asset even though the applicant was not a beneficiary of the trust because the applicant retained a degree of discretionary authority over the trust assets. Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman (N.H., No. 2015-0395, July 12, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

10. NY Court Rules that  Spouse’s Refusal to Contribute to Care Creates Implied Contract to Repay Benefits

A New York trial court enters judgment against a woman who refused to contribute to her spouse’s nursing home expenses, finding that because she had adequate resources to do so, an implied contract was created between her and the state entitling the state to repayment of Medicaid benefits it paid on the spouse’s behalf. Banks v. Gonzalez (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Pt. 5, No. 452318/15, Aug. 8, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

Feel Free to contact me to see how any of these decisions may affect your personal situation.

-Brian A. Raphan, Esq. 

How To Look Out for a Relative in a Nursing Home

The best ways to make sure your loved one gets the care that was promised.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 9.31.06 PMvia U.S.News  Kurtis Hiatt

Finally, after ticking off the last item on a lengthy list of must-haves, you think you’ve found the best nursing home for your mom. The staff seems caring and professional. It’s comfortable, homey, and Mom is OK with it. She might even come to like her new life.

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But your work isn’t over. You want to make sure Mom gets the care you were told she’d receive—and the care she deserves. “The resident’s needs should be met by the facility, rather than having the patient meet the facility’s needs,” says Barbara Messinger-Rapport, director of the Cleveland Clinic‘s Center for Geriatric Medicine.

How do you make that happen?

What to ask
Start with your loved one. Isn’t Dad going to be your best source of information on his own care? “Ask the questions you would want to be asked if the roles were reversed,” says Cornelia Poer, a social worker in the Geriatric Evaluation and Treatment Clinic at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. Questions such as:

  • Are you comfortable?
  • Is anything worrying you?
  • Do you feel safe?
  • Do you feel respected?
  • If you need help and you push the call button, how long before somebody comes?
  • Have you gotten to know any of the other residents?
  •  Do you like the staff—and any staff member in particular?

That last point may seem small, but whether your loved one clicks with a specific caregiver is important, says David A. Nace, chief of medical affairs for UPMC Senior Communities, a long-term care network in western Pennsylvania that is part of UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It shows he’s making connections, growing in new social relationships. The trust that develops may also mean Dad takes his medication more reliably, or if behavioral issues stemming from dementia are a concern, it may be easier for one nurse than for another to manage them, says Nace.

Show interest and concern and identify major problems, but don’t go overboard. “Inquiries are important, but try to avoid turning every visit into an interrogation,” Poer says. “You will be able to determine if there are areas of concern in normal, everyday conversation.”

[Read: 9 Warning Signs of Bad Care.]

Some questions will be better directed at staff members, particularly if your loved one has a cognition problem such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In the first days and weeks, the focus should be on the initial adjustment. Do Mom’s nurses see any signs of depression? Does she appear to be making the transition smoothly? If not, what, specifically, is being done to help her?

Then drill down to her day-to-day routine:

  • When is she up?
  • Are her meals appropriately prepared—soft or pureed food if she has trouble chewing, low in fat and salt if she has a heart condition?
  • Is she taking her medications when and as often as she should? (The timing of each medication should be documented.) If there’s been a consistent problem, how is that being addressed?
  • Is there a reason to change any of her medications?
  • Is she exercising or participating in other physical activities?
  • Is she social?

“I like to see if the patients are usually in their rooms,” says Susan Leonard, a geriatrician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “Not being in their rooms means they are participating in activities, dining, or in the hallway socializing with others, which may suggest a better social environment for residents.” But you’ll want to see for yourself whether empty rooms might only mean residents are parked on sofas and in wheelchairs elsewhere in front of TVs.

Don’t be afraid to broach more sensitive topics. If you were recently alerted of a behavioral issue or medical emergency, talk to both Mom and the staff to figure out whether it was handled properly. You want to know what the staff did and what changes in care they’ve made.

It’s helpful to have a main point of contact during the day’s various shifts. You should feel like you can call at any time, but Nace observes that it’s good to know up front what the best times are for getting general updates. And don’t settle for less than you need to know. If you don’t get an answer, head up the chain of command to a unit supervisor, assistant director, or director.

What to inspect
Getting a feel on your own for the overall environment goes a long way, says Audrey Chun, associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. Are common areas, rooms, and residents’ clothes clean? What about lighting and temperature? These are especially important to older adults, says Poer. Does the room feel homelike? If you send cards, are they hanging on a bulletin board in the room?  If cards and drawings are up and Mom couldn’t put them up herself, that’s a great sign. “It means the staff took the time to do it for the resident,” Nace says. “The staff cared enough to do this.”

Look around. Do you see any safety hazards—a hanging TV that isn’t strapped down or blocked exits? What about bruises, such as on the upper arms where staff may have handled Dad too roughly? Watch the staff—are they affectionate, genuine, and helpful?

Use your nose. Are there odors in the hallways and rooms? “Yes, bowel movements happen—this is a long-established fact of life—but it should not be the thing that greets you every time you are in the hall,” says Nace.

Listen. Do you hear birds, music, laughter? Or do you hear creaky floors and clanging pipes? Constant small annoyances can affect a person’s mood and eventually her day-to-day demeanor.

How often to check in—and what to do if you can’t
Some homes have a “care conference” shortly after admission and then quarterly to give you and your loved one a regular time to talk with staff, says Nace. But stopping by on various days and at various times is smart. You can ensure Mom or Dad isn’t “overmedicated or spending time sitting in front of the TV,” says Messinger-Rapport. When you do check in, swing by the nurses’ station to signal to the staff that you’re actively involved in Dad’s care.  If distance keeps you apart, staff might be able to send you photos or videos of Dad or set up a videoconference with Dad and his caregivers. If you’re abroad, staff might be able to print out an email for Mom if she doesn’t have a computer, Nace says.

Better still, says Poer, “having someone on the ground to be your eyes and ears can be very useful.” Enlist a local family member or close friend. Or consider a case manager or ombudsperson to advocate for you and Mom.

What the staff needs from you
Make sure the home’s staff has a number where they can receive a prompt response if necessary. And while staff has a professional responsibility, your appreciation—particularly if someone worked with you to resolve a concern, and even if it meant you had to compromise—will go far. “Be respectful of the staff and their time; their job is very demanding,” Poer says.  Let the nurses and other caregivers into your and your loved one’s lives by sharing personality quirks, interests, preferences. But above all, stay optimistic about Dad’s future and his ability to accept and adjust to his new life. Flycasting for bass on the Susquehanna River, Nace’s dad’s longtime passion, faded into a treasured memory after he moved into a nursing home, traded in for newfound pastimes: baking and painting.

[See our other posts on legal issues and nursing homes]

Regards,

Brian

http://www.RaphanLaw.com

Seeking long-term care? How your local Ombudsman can help…

    • OMBUDSMAN: What is the Program/Service   Via www.aging.ny.gov

      Educating, empowering and advocating for long-term care residents. The Ombudsman Program is an effective advocate and resource for older adults and persons with disabilities, who live in nursing homes, assisted living and other licensed adult care homes. Ombudsmen help residents understand and exercise their rights to good care in an environment that promotes and protects their dignity and quality of life.
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      The Ombudsman Program advocates for residents by investigating and resolving complaints made by or on behalf of residents; promoting the development of resident and family councils; and informing government agencies, providers and the general public about issues and concerns impacting residents of long-term care facilities.

      Mandated by the federal Older Americans Act, in New York the Ombudsman Program is administratively housed at the State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), and provides advocacy services through a network of 36 local programs. Each local Ombudsman Program is lead by a designated ombudsman coordinator who recruits, trains and supervises a corps of volunteers, currently more than 1000 statewide. These certified volunteers provide a regular presence in nursing homes and adult care facilities are available to help residents with questions and concerns about their care and living conditions.

      Conversations with the ombudsman are confidential and residents or other persons can register a complaint anonymously. Ombudsmen handle a wide variety of complaints involving quality of care, residents’ rights, discharge, medications, lost or stolen items, dietary issues, and quality of life concerns. Ombudsmen can also provide information and consultation about how to choose a facility and how to pay for long-term care.

    • Who is Eligible?

      While the program serves all residents of licensed long-term care facilities regardless of age.

    • Is There a Cost?

      Ombudsman services are provided free of charge.

READ ABOUT PROTECTING YOUR ASSETS FOR YOUR FAMILY WHILE GETTING THE CARE YOU NEED

Appeals Court Upholds Class Certification of Nursing Home Residents Seeking Community-Based Alternatives

A U.S. Court of Appeals upholds a district court ruling that granted class certification to a group of disabled nursing home residents who complained of a lack of Medicaid-funded community-based alternatives.  In re District of Columbia, (D.C. Cir., No. 14-8001, June 26, 2015).
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The plaintiffs, a group of disabled nursing home residents receiving Medicaid-funded long term care, sued the District of Columbia for allegedly violating its obligation, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide services to the disabled in the most appropriate, integrated setting. The plaintiffs filed a motion seeking class certification, asserting that they were all similarly situated nursing home residents who wanted to live in the community but were forced to remain institutionalized against their will.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the motion for class certification, finding that alleged systemic deficiencies, such as the District’s failure to offer sufficient discharge planning or to provide residents with meaningful choices of community-based alternatives to nursing home care, were sufficient bases upon which to certify the class.

The District filed a petition for permission to file an interlocutory appeal of the district court’s ruling certifying the class.  The District argued that the lower court committed manifest error by failing to identify policies or practices that were common to all members of the class and that were amenable to class-wide resolution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagrees and upholds the class certification.  The court concludes that it was not manifest error for the lower court to find the allegations of systemic deficiencies in the program sufficient to establish a class of plaintiffs.

For the full text of this decision, click here.