The attorney general’s office in New Mexico has sued one of the country’s largest nursing home chains over allegations of inadequate resident care. The lawsuit asserts ultra-thin staffing levels made it a numeric impossibility for staffers to provide appropriate care to elderly and disabled patients.
Preferred Care Partners Management Group L.P., which operates in 10 states, including Florida, has staunchly denied the allegations made in the lawsuit.
Other states are carefully monitoring the developments of this case because it’s a novel approach to a pervasive and serious problem nationwide. Many nursing homes – primarily for-profit centers – give patient care a back seat to profit margins. They skimp on supplies, security tools and, most importantly, qualified staff.
They may choose to hire individuals who are less educated or poorly-trained because they can get by with paying them less money. Employees who are well-educated or better-trained may not be hired in the numbers necessary to ensure quality care. A single nurse can have a stellar resume with oodles of commendations – but he or she is going to find it impossible to give good care to 35 patients in an hour or two.
And that’s the point made by Democratic Attorney General Gary King, who was quoted as saying the hope is to send a message to nursing homes everywhere: That failure to provide the basic level of care for which the facilities are paid and the residents require won’t be tolerated.
The structure of this particular operation is such that the LLC is positioned as the manager over a number of private partnerships. The only listed investor in each of these operation is the LLC’s chairman. It’s the 10th biggest nursing home chain in the U.S. In New Mexico, where this case has been filed, it holds 7 of the 10 slots for the worst-rated centers in the state.
The crux of the lawsuit comes down to numbers. Since 2008, most of the $230 million in fees collected by the chain for 1 million days of collective care were funded by the state and federal governments through Medicare payments. In order to receive those moneys, each nursing home vowed to adhere to both state and federal guidelines for appropriate residential care.
However, with many of these facilities, the lawsuit alleges, staffing levels made it impossible for the center to keep that promise. For example, it takes about 3.5 minutes to reposition a patient in order to prevent bed sores. There are also general timelines for how long it takes to feed a resident, bathe a resident and change a diaper. Based on these figures, multiplied by the number of residents who needed this kind of intensive care and the number of staff members available to do it, there was no way residents were receiving the care they needed.
Also noted are specific cases in which staffers were too harried to help residents shower or change their diapers or sometimes, even feed them or give them water. These kinds of lapses are unacceptable especially when nursing homes are being paid to provide these services.
The lawsuit alleges this kind of nursing home neglect was not an aberration, but rather the norm. It’s also noteworthy that when nursing home managers knew state inspectors would be coming, they increased the number of nursing assistants on the floor.
While there are some private lawsuits that follow this same logic, this is the first known state-filed case.
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Major Nursing Home Chain Defends Care of Residents, April 3, 2015, By Susan Montoya Bryan, The Albuquerque Journal
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