9 Investigates: Some nursing homes given below-average ratings by online system

by: Peter Daut Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

A new way to get information about Charlotte nursing homes shows many of them with below-average ratings.

Bob Helton admits he can be a squeaky wheel.

“As squeaky as they get. I don't mind telling people what I feel,” he said.

The 74-year-old retired minister has lived in three Charlotte nursing homes the past two years and said he found major issues at all of them.

“Food problems, timed care, out of medicine, out of clean linen,” Helton said.

What Helton did not know is that he could have gotten a better sense of the care at each facility before ever going inside.

Medicare recently upgraded its online nursing home compare system, which rates facilities based on state inspections.

One star means “much below average” and five stars mean “much above average.” Categories include quality, staffing, health inspections and overall. Complaint reports for each facility are also posted.

Hillary Kaylor is an advocate for nursing home residents, and said more people are using the site to find critical information.

“Is this information some facilities don't want people to know about?” Eyewitness News asked.

“I think it's information they wish would go away sooner, if they had a bad survey,” Kaylor said.

Eyewitness News looked at each of the 24 nursing homes in Mecklenburg County and discovered that in the overall category, just as many facilities received a one-star rating as a five-star rating.

The one-star rated facilities are Charlotte Health Care Center, Peak Resources Charlotte, Saturn Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and University Place Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Inspectors found that some of the facilities failed to “make sure residents are safe from serious medication errors,” “keep the nursing home free from accident hazards and risks,” “properly care for residents needing special services” and “store, cook and serve food in a safe and clean way.”

No one from any of the one-star facilities would talk to Eyewitness News on camera.

Charlotte Health Care Center and Saturn Nursing and Rehabilitation Center sent Eyewitness News statements, saying “it takes 3 years for survey results to be purged,” and they “do not believe the system provides accurate, up-to-date information.”

Joyce Smith said even higher-rated facilities can have serious problems.

She put her 77-year-old father in a three-star Charlotte facility. She said the care was so bad that his health worsened, so she pulled him out after only two weeks.

“They sent my dad home with active MRSA in his kidneys and his lungs. We weren't made aware of it,” Smith said.

Kaylor said the information on Medicare's website may not always be the most current, and believes families should use it as a starting point.

“Nothing replaces going to visit those facilities,” Kaylor said.

As for Helton, he hopes others will learn to do their homework so they don't have to switch to different facilities like he did.

“There is a lot lacking in nursing homes today,” he said.

To make complaints against a nursing home, the North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulations has a hotline you can call at 1-800-624-3004.

To visit Medicare's website, click here.

Statement from Charlotte Health Care Center:

"Several years ago, Charlotte Health Care Center experienced a survey cycle that resulted in a high scope and severity deficiency and led to its one star rating.  Since that time, we have experienced surveys with deficiencies at or around the North Carolina state average (currently 3.8 deficiencies) and well under the national average (currently 7.5 deficiencies).   This marked improvement is also highlighted by the fact that the past 2 years of surveys have resulted in only low level deficiencies.   Under the CMS five star rating system, it takes 3 years for survey results to be purged, and there is a lag time for posting new survey results.  The survey information currently posted by CMS includes the survey from almost three years ago with the high scope and severity deficiency but does not include the results of this past summer’s annual survey.  As the old survey data rolls off in the next few months, and our most recent survey is posted, we fully expect our star rating to increase.  We take our star rating very seriously and we are committed to providing the highest quality care in the highest quality setting.  Our recent 4000 square foot physical therapy addition and instillation of the Charlotte area’s first aquatic therapy pool in a skilled nursing facility are visible evidence of that commitment."

Statement from Saturn Nursing and Rehabilitation Center:

"Our first commitment always is to provide quality of care to residents in a safe and secure environment. Despite what the 5 Star Rating system may reflect Saturn Nursing and Rehabilitation consistently does this, a fact that our residents, families, staff and even surveyors with the Division of Health Service Regulation recognize.

Delivering the highest quality of care and customer satisfaction is a top priority for those of us in the long term care profession and the vast majority of nursing homes nationwide provide the type of high quality, compassionate care that patients, residents and their families want and deserve.

The facts speak for themselves. Quality is improving in our nation’s nursing facilities, a reality not reflected in the 5 star program.

The long term care profession has helped to lead the nation’s healthcare sector in terms of quality improvement, and we are committed to continuing our work with CMS to advance a transparent survey process that recognizes quality, and provides the resources for facility improvement, which will enhance efforts to further improve quality long term care.

We support a rating system that accurately reflects the quality of care in our nation’s nursing facilities; however, we do not believe that a system based on the current survey system will provide consumers with accurate, up-to-date-information.  

The CMS 5 Star is not a rating system but a ranking system whereas 1 isolated incidence of human error can cause a downward movement in the system.  Movement within the system can be affected by the changes of others within that system.

CMS claims that the survey component of it’s 5-Star Quality Rating System represents the most important dimension in determining a facility’s overall quality rating. We disagree. Today’s survey system does not measure quality, but rather assesses compliance with federal or state regulations. We believe that customer satisfaction, how a resident and family members judge the care being provided in a particular facility-is a better indicator of the quality of care and quality of life residents enjoy.

Quality improvement is a dynamic ongoing process and its quantification must reflect the many variants that go into the delivery of care. We believe that consumer and staff satisfaction are two important components of quality of care.

Staffing scores are based on one 2-week period of time up to 15 months ago, which can be distorted by absences of key personnel due to illness or vacations for example, or by the current conditions of residents Quality Measures.

Is it fair?

If there were 5 skilled facilities in the state with all things equal, one would be a 5 star and one would be a 1 star.  It does not allow for all facilities to be 5 stars and with its current design will always have 1 star facilities although they may all be equal.

We are proud of the fine work our dedicated staff provide for our residents every day.  

Although this system has been implemented it is not universally recognized as the best way to choose a nursing facility. Medicare.gov has a guideline for choosing a nursing facility that is helpful and can lead to the best choice for each individual when choosing a nursing facility."