Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Grades for area nursing homes tank under new rating system

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BATON ROUGE - If you know someone or have a loved one in a nursing home, you'll be shocked to hear only one in our area received the top rating according to Medicare's grading system for the homes.

The Feds recently changed the way nursing homes are rated and are demanding improvements at nearly one third of the country's nursing homes. Out of 30 of them in a 25-mile radius of Baton Rouge, the only nursing home to earn a five-star rating is in Baker: the Northridge Care Center received a perfect score.

Currently, there is no state requirement forcing nursing homes to have a certain staff-to-patient ratio. Staffing along with others factors caused area nursing home grades to drop big time this year.

Joyce Allen has lived in four different nursing homes over the course of her life. Allen is lucid, her memory clear. She's aware of problems at past homes she's lived in, but now she finally calls herself happy.

"I like this one," Allen said. "It don't compare. I like this one."

Allen is talking about the Northridge Care Center in Baker. Dorothy London not only lives there now, she also used to work at the nursing home many decades ago.

"My husband died and my two sons," Allen said. "The doctor told me I had to go to a nursing home."

The home London and Allen live in is rated number one according to Medicare's tough nursing home grading system. When Medicare changed the way homes were graded this year, it looked at criteria like staffing levels, health inspections and quality of care. Overnight, homes lost points for preventable problems.

Brock Naquin is the administrator at Northridge.

"It's pretty challenging," Naquin said. "We have to perform well in a lot of areas, primarily the challenge this year was the quality indicators, the results for things like pressure ulcers, falls with injuries and things of that nature."

Northridge Care Center has received five-star ratings for the past five years. Agency leaders say it's no easy feat. Quality of care is something they pride themselves on.

That was evident the day of our visit as numerous workers filled the halls pushing carts and checking on patients. Others wiped down walls to keep the home clean.The acrid smell of some homes noticeably absent inside. But other facilities in our area did not perform so well with at least six receiving "much below average" scores. Allen calls some other homes she's stayed in terrible.

"It was bad," Allen recalled. "So bad. I told my sister I want to go somewhere else."

When asked what was bad, Allen had a problem with the way she was treated. Allen believes some of those bad ratings fit right in with what she experienced. So does Bruce Blaney, an advocate for home-based care.

"Nursing homes deserve the labels they get in all these reports," Blaney said.

Six nursing homes in the Greater Baton Rouge area are saddled with one-star ratings, dinged for health inspections that were considered much below or below average. For far too long, critics claim the rating systems for nursing homes were inflated, and quality of care is better at home if you can afford to hire help.

But nursing facilities tend to survive and thrive while 45,000 Louisianians are waiting to get some form of home support.

"So much of the money goes to institutions," Blaney said. "If that money were freed up to go where demand is, then a lot of people could be served."

According to Blaney, 25,000 people across the state are currently in nursing homes. Nearly a quarter of the beds available are empty. Medicare and Medicaid reimburse homes a portion of money depending on what the patient is admitted for. The Feds new guidelines will now require staffing to be a major component of a facility's rating.

"The state believe it or not does not have standards," Blaney said. "I've talked to LPNs who are supporting as many as 80 people. I'm not saying that's typical but you can have 1/80 ratios."

The Director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association has never heard that statistic and says the new ratings are unfair.

"They are all just as good as they were the day before, it's just now the grading system changed," Executive Director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, Joe Donchess said.

Donchess believes some things are out of a nursing home's control, and they get docked points. For example, facilities with a high number of patients on anti-psychotic drugs lose points.

"Nursing facilities don't prescribe medicines, doctors do," Donchess said. "Therefore, we have to work with our doctors to understand what these new guidelines are or efforts being made by the federal government to reduce the use of anti-psychotic drugs."

As the State Nursing Home Association works to increase ratings at other homes, Northridge plans to keep doing what they're doing. For residents like Allen, there's only one thing she would change even though she lives in the number one nursing home in our area.

"I can't have no seafood because my lips swell up, but I like it though," Allen said.

The Feds plan to begin a nationwide auditing program of nursing homes to insure that quality measures are accurate. If you would like to read the complete list of how nursing homes in our area stacked up, click here.

Last year, a legislative report indicated Louisiana indicated the quality of care in the state's nursing homes is the worst in the country.The report cited high numbers of bed sores, physical restraints and low numbers of nursing staff.



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