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.
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Are Medicare Advantage Plans Steering Enrollees to Lower-Quality Nursing Homes?

A recent study has found that people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan were more likely to enter a lower-quality nursing home than were people in traditional Medicare. The study raises questions about whether Medicare Advantage plans are influencing beneficiaries’ decisionmaking when it comes to choosing a nursing home. Medicare Advantage plans, an alternative to traditional Medicare, are provided by private insurers rather than the federal government.

The government pays Medicare Advantage plans a fixed monthly fee to provide services to each Medicare beneficiary under their care, and the services must at least be equal to regular Medicare’s. While the plans sometimes offer benefits that original Medicare does not, the plans usually only cover care provided by doctors in their network or charge higher rates for out-of-network care. The study, conducted by researchers at Brown University School of Public Health, examined Medicare beneficiaries entering nursing homes between 2012 and 2014. Using Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website as the measure of quality, the study found that beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans tended to enter lower quality nursing homes than beneficiaries in original Medicare.

This was true even when the researchers took into account the beneficiaries’ distance from the nursing home and other decision factors. Even beneficiaries enrolled in highly rated Medicare Advantage plans were more likely to enter a low-quality nursing home compared to original Medicare beneficiaries. The study does not draw any conclusions about whether the Medicare Advantage beneficiaries fared worse than original Medicare beneficiaries, only that they tended to enter facilities that had higher re-hospitalization rates and worse outcomes. The study concluded that Medicare Advantage plans may be influencing beneficiary decisionmaking around nursing home selection. According to Skilled Nursing News, one of the study’s authors speculated that a Medicare Advantage plan “might be incentivized to send patients to a given nursing home regardless of what the quality ratings are, because of a relationship with that nursing home or because they have a lot of patients in that nursing home and can better manage their care.”

Information on exactly why this is happening is “of vital policy importance,” according to the study’s authors. They recommend gathering more information about Medicare Advantage nursing home claims and re-hospitalization rates and requiring Medicare Advantage plans to be more transparent about the quality of nursing homes in their networks.

To read the study click here.

 

Copyright 2016 This article is provided as legal information, not legal advice and our law firm makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy,completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in in this article. The distribution or acceptance of this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship with our law firm.

What’s the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid in the Context of Long-Term Care?

Although their names are confusingly alike, Medicaid and Medicare are quite different programs. Both of these programs provide health coverage, but Medicare is an “entitlement” program, meaning that everyone who reaches age 65 and is entitled to receive Social Security benefits also receives Medicare (Medicare also covers people of any age who are permanently disabled or who have end-stage renal disease.)

Medicaid, on the other hand, is a public assistance program that that helps pay medical costs for individuals with limited income and assets. To be eligible for Medicaid coverage, you must meet the program’s strict income and asset guidelines. Also, unlike Medicare, which is totally federal, Medicaid is a joint state-federal program. Each state operates its own Medicaid system, but this system must conform to federal guidelines in order for the state to receive federal money, which pays for about half the state’s Medicaid costs. (The state picks up the rest of the tab.)

Medicare and Medicaid Coverage of Long-Term Care

The most significant difference between Medicare and Medicaid in the realm of long-term care planning, however, is that Medicaid covers nursing home care, while Medicare, for the most part, does not. Medicare Part A covers only up to 100 days of care in a “skilled nursing” facility per spell of illness. The care in the skilled nursing facility must follow a stay of at least three days in a hospital. And for days 21 through 100, you must pay a co-payment. (This is generally covered by Medigap insurance.) In addition, the definition of “skilled nursing” and the other conditions for obtaining this coverage are quite stringent, meaning that few nursing home residents receive the full 100 days of coverage. As a result, Medicare pays for less than a quarter of long-term care costs in the U.S. In the absence of any other public program covering long-term care, Medicaid has become the default nursing home insurance of the middle class. Lacking access to alternatives such as paying privately or being covered by a longterm care insurance policy, most people pay out of their own pockets for long-term care until they become eligible for Medicaid. The fact that Medicaid is a joint state-federal program complicates matters, because the Medicaid eligibility rules are somewhat different from state to state, and they keep changing. (The states also sometimes have their own names for the program, such as “Medi-Cal” in California and “MassHealth” in Massachusetts.)

Both the federal government and most state governments seem to be continually tinkering with the eligibility requirements and restrictions.

This is why consulting with your elder law attorney is so important. As for home care, Medicaid has traditionally offered very little — except in New York, which provides home care to all Medicaid recipients who need it. Recognizing that home care costs far less than nursing home care, more and more states are providing Medicaid-covered services to those who remain in their homes. It’s possible to qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. Such recipients are called “dual eligibles.” Medicare beneficiaries who have limited income and resources can get help paying their out-of-pocket medical expenses from their state Medicaid program.

READ THE TOP 8 MEDICAID PLANNING MISTAKES>

Complaints About Nursing Home Evictions Rise, and Regulators Take Note

From The New York Times:

One reason for the evictions, legal
advocates say, is that the residents’
better-paying Medicare coverage is
ending and will be replaced by Medicaid.

Full Article>

New Protections for Nursing Home Residents

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 5.27.05 PM

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.

Is your family getting the VA support they deserve?

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Individuals who have risked their lives to serve and protect the United States of America and its citizens are entitled to a variety of benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Eligibility requirements vary for these benefits, but many veterans (and their family caregivers) are able to receive some level of coverage, financial assistance or support. This guide will help direct veterans and their family members to VA programs that may assist in paying for or providing long-term care, burials, pensions, and other benefits.

Get Your FREE Veterans Benefits Guide from AgingCare: Click Here

This guide includes the most up‑to‑date information on getting VA benefits.
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About AgingCare.com

AgingCare.com is the go-to destination for family caregivers, providing trusted information, practical answers to real-life questions, and ongoing support. Our mission is to help families prepare for and navigate the care of an elderly loved one. AgingCare.com has been recognized in both national and local media as an expert resource on elder care. AgingCare.com is paid by our participating providers, so we are able to offer you a completely cost-free service with no hidden fees.

What effects will repealing Obamacare have on Medicare?

What effects can repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, have? While repealing Obamacare will have implications for millions of younger people covered by the insurance, it will also affect Medicare beneficiaries.

To begin with, the ACA requires insurers to provide free preventative care coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. Without that requirement, seniors may end up having to pay for many preventative care services.

In addition, the ACA reduced prescription drug costs under Medicare Part D and phased in an elimination of the infamous “doughnut hole.” The doughnut hole is the period of time in which seniors are responsible for 100 percent of the cost of prescription drugs. Under the ACA, the percentage seniors pay for drugs while in this coverage gap was capped at 50 percent starting in 2011 and is supposed to continue dropping until the doughnut hole is eliminated completely in 2020.  (For more on how the ACA addresses the doughnut hole, click here.)

A little–known fact about the ACA is that it contains provisions designed to strengthen Medicare. Repealing the ACA may eliminate those provisions, potentially destabilizing Medicare.  The ACA also established programs to reduce Medicare waste, fraud, and abuse. Thanks to these measures, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Medicare hospital insurance fund is projected to remain solvent eleven years longer than before the ACA was enacted.

These factors combined with the fact that millions of near-seniors aged 50-64 could lose coverage, leaving them in poorer health when they become eligible for Medicare, could raise future Medicare costs for existing beneficiaries.

Hopefully the best parts will be kept in place if a new plan is enacted.

What’s the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid in the Context of Long-Term Care?

Although their names are confusingly alike, Medicaid and Medicare are quite different programs. Both programs provide health coverage, but Medicare is an “entitlement” program, meaning that everyone who reaches age 65 and is entitled to receive Social Security benefits also receives Medicare (Medicare also covers people of any age who are permanently disabled or who have end-stage renal disease.)

Brian Raphan, P.C.

Medicaid, on the other hand, is a public assistance program that that helps pay medical costs for individuals with limited income and assets. To be eligible for Medicaid coverage, you must meet the program’s strict income and asset guidelines. Also, unlike Medicare, which is totally federal, Medicaid is a joint state-federal program. Each state operates its own Medicaid system, but this system must conform to federal guidelines in order for the state to receive federal money, which pays for about half the state’s Medicaid costs. (The state picks up the rest of the tab.)

Medicare and Medicaid Coverage of Long-Term Care

The most significant difference between Medicare and Medicaid in the realm of long-term care planning, however, is that Medicaid covers nursing home care, while Medicare, for the most part, does not. Medicare Part A covers only up to 100 days of care in a “skilled nursing” facility per spell of illness. The care in the skilled nursing facility must follow a stay of at least three days in a hospital. And for days 21 through 100, you must pay a co-payment of $152 a day (in 2014). (This is generally covered by Medigap insurance.) In addition, the definition of “skilled nursing” and the other conditions for obtaining this coverage are quite stringent, meaning that few nursing home residents receive the full 100 days of coverage. As a result, Medicare pays for less than a quarter of long-term care costs in the U.S. In the absence of any other public program covering long-term care, Medicaid has become the default nursing home insurance of the middle class. Lacking access to alternatives such as paying privately or being covered by a longterm care insurance policy, most people pay out of their own pockets for long-term care until they become eligible for Medicaid. The fact that Medicaid is a joint state-federal program complicates matters, because the Medicaid eligibility rules are somewhat different from state to state, and they keep changing. (The states also sometimes have their own names for the program, such as “Medi-Cal” in California and “MassHealth” in Massachusetts.)

Both the federal government and most state governments seem to be continually tinkering with the eligibility requirements and restrictions.

This is why consulting with your elder law attorney is so important. As for home care, Medicaid has traditionally offered very little — except in New York, which provides home care to all Medicaid recipients who need it. Recognizing that home care costs far less than nursing home care, more and more states are providing Medicaid-covered services to those who remain in their homes. It’s possible to qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. Such recipients are called “dual eligibles.” Medicare beneficiaries who have limited income and resources can get help paying their out-of-pocket medical expenses from their state Medicaid program. For details, click here.

To Collect Debts, Nursing Homes Are Seizing Control Over Patients

The need to protect your assets is always at hand. Planning for long-term care with an elder law attorney can help protect your assets for the in home spouse and heirs. Medicaid Planning or Life Care Planning helps to ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible long-term care and the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. The following article brings this issue to light.

Article via The New York Times: 

Photo credit: Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

To Collect Debts, Nursing Homes Are Seizing Control Over Patients.

Lillian Palermo tried to prepare for the worst possibilities of aging. An insurance executive with a Ph.D. in psychology and a love of ballroom dancing, she arranged for her power of attorney and health care proxy to go to her husband, Dino, eight years her junior, if she became incapacitated. And in her 80s, she did.

Mr. Palermo, who was the lead singer in a Midtown nightclub in the 1960s when her elegant tango first caught his eye, now regularly rolls his wife’s wheelchair to the piano at the Catholic nursing home in Manhattan where she ended up in 2010 as dementia, falls and surgical complications took their toll. He sings her favorite songs, feeds her home-cooked Italian food, and pays a private aide to be there when he cannot.

5 Tips for Arranging and Paying for a Home Health Aide:

-By Emily Garnett, Associate Attorney at Brian A. Raphan, P.C.

Finding oneself or a family member in need of home care can be a tough pill to swallow. It is often difficult to accept that you or a loved one is no longer able to safely do many of the activities of daily living that you once could. At that point, it may be time to bring in a home health aide for assistance with a wide variety of activities of daily living.

1. How to Arrange Help and Payment: Many people choose to privately pay for home health aides. If you choose to go this route, you can utilize a long-term home health care program (LTHHCP). These are agencies accredited by the state that provide home health aides. They manage the staffing and payroll. However, you can also choose to select aides that are privately paid, and work outside of an LTHHCP agency. For these aides, you would have to manage staffing and payroll issues yourself, or utilize the expertise of an elder law attorney or geriatric care manager to manage these details.

Medicaid Planning

2. Using Medicaid to Pay: If you are unable to privately pay for home care, you have the option of applying for Medicaid to obtain coverage for long-term home care. It is advised that you work with an elder law attorney or other professional to facilitate this process, as it can be complicated, and the regulations are frequently changing. In order to qualify for Medicaid, the applicant must meet certain requirements for income and assets. The current Medicaid asset limit is $14,550.00, and the monthly income limit is $809.00. Unlike nursing home Medicaid, there is no look-back period for community Medicaid, meaning that Medicaid is not going to investigate past money transfers like they would for an application for nursing home coverage. There are several ways to address the income and asset limits required for Medicaid acceptance, the most common being the use of pooled trusts to shelter those funds. Pooled trusts are frequently used to meet the Medicaid spend-down, which is the requirement that an applicant reduce his or her available income so that it remains under the Medicaid limit.

3. Shelter your Income: Once an individual applies for Medicaid coverage, he or she can join a third party pooled trust to shelter the excess income and meet the spend-down. These trusts allow the individual to use the funds sheltered in the trust for personal needs outside of the Medicaid coverage, including expenses like rent, utilities, and phone bills. If this arrangement is not made, the applicant runs the risk of rejection by Medicaid or having to privately pay for some part of his or her home care each month.

4. Enrollment for Managed Long Term Care: Once you have applied for and been approved for Medicaid, you will work with your elder law attorney or specialist to enroll in a managed long-term care program (MLTC), which will provide home care services. The first step in this process is assessment by a new program, the Conflict-Free Eligibility and Enrollment Center (CFEEC), sometimes also referred to as “Maximus”. This assessment takes about two hours and provides a determination to Medicaid that the consumer is eligible for home care services. At that point, the consumer selects a managed long term care plan to enroll in. The MLTC plan then schedules a second assessment, also lasting about two hours, in which the specific care needs of the consumer are assessed. At the conclusion of this assessment, the nurse performing the assessment will submit the information to Medicaid, who will ultimately determine the number of hours of home care needed each day by the consumer. This process is very time-sensitive, so work closely with your Medicaid attorney assisting with the application process, to avoid costly and unnecessary delays.

5. Keeping Your Ongoing Benefits: Once the application process is complete, your home care will likely start on or around the first of the following month. At that point, your obligations as a consumer are to maintain the income and asset limits, including utilization of a pooled trust if needed. You will be required to annually re-certify with Medicaid that you have maintained these levels. Should you have questions at that point, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Medicaid planning attorney, rather than risk losing your Medicaid benefits. It is worth noting, however, that occasionally delays arise in various points of the application process through no fault of the attorney or applicant. Should you find yourself in such a position, understand that these issues do arise, and make sure to cooperate with your attorney or specialist’s advocacy efforts towards resolution.

Emily Garnett, Esq.

The Law Offices of Brian A. Raphan, P.C. 7 Penn Plaza, Suite 810 New York, NY 10001 T: (212) 268-8200

“Helping Senior New Yorkers for over 25 Years”