- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Sixteen of the 21 nursing homes in the District have violated several federal health and safety standards, according to a report released yesterday by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Nursing home violations include being tardy in following doctors' orders, ignoring illness signals such as vomiting, not treating bed sores even when patients were bleeding and exuding foul odors, treating patients roughly, failing to stop a man from sexually harassing a woman, serving insufficient food and not attending to patients.
The violations were found during inspections from June 2000 to July 2001 and could harm patients, said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting representative in Congress. The House Committee on Government Reform prepared the report.
"Inspectors observed [a blind resident] eating by placing her mouth to her plate and using her tongue to maneuver the food into her mouth," said Romaine Thomas, president of the D.C. chapter of AARP.
"None of the four aides in the room including two who were engaged in conversation came to her assistance," Miss Thomas said. "What the report tells me is that in too many D.C. nursing homes, there is too little nursing, and it just doesn't feel much like home."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the city needs to "move faster" in improving nursing homes and increasing penalties for violations. "There is not a lot of good news here," he said.
It is about time, said D.C. Ombudsman Gerald Kasunic, noting that his staff investigated 1,400 complaints about nursing homes in the previous fiscal year. "For over a decade, the ombudsman program has uncovered similar instances of poor care and services being provided to our city's nursing home residents," he said.
The report pertained only to nursing homes or their patients receiving Medicaid or Medicare. The 21 nursing homes have 2,849 residents. Six of the nursing homes in which violations harmed patients have 851 residents receiving more than $27 million in federal and D.C. funding annually.
Two homes met all federal and state requirements: the Methodist Home of the District of Columbia and the D.C.-owned J.B. Johnson Nursing Center, where yesterday's press conference was conducted.
Nursing homes aren't as bad as the numbers indicate, said Solanges Vivens, president of Long Term Care Management, which manages the Johnson Nursing Center.
Inspectors are looking for faults among 311 possible nursing home deficiencies, Miss Vivens said. Those deficiencies range from "risk of minimal harm" to "actual or potential death or serious injury."
Three of the nursing homes were in "substantial compliance" or risk of minimal harm, but 10 had the potential of causing more than minimal harm, and six caused actual harm one of which caused death or serious injury, she noted.
"People who work in nursing homes do it because they love what they do. They don't do it for the money," said Miss Vivens, who has been in the business since 1977.
Nurses aides, who are in short supply throughout the nation, are reimbursed an average of $6.50 per hour in the District, according to the D.C. Health Care Association. Nurses aides perform 80 percent of the care to nursing home residents.
Association President David Beck urged Mrs. Norton to help pass federal legislation that would boost Medicaid appropriations and increase nursing home staffs.
Mrs. Norton blamed House Republicans for 1997 legislation that she said caused Medicaid payments to fall behind rapidly rising health care costs. That led to insufficient staffing in nursing homes, she said.
Although D.C. nursing homes have faults, Mrs. Norton said they rate well when compared with comparable homes in St. Louis. There, none of 30 nursing homes met all federal standards, 15 had the potential for more than minimal harm to residents, 30 harmed residents, and 20 percent had residents who died or suffered serious injury.

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