Newsline 9 has wrapped up an investigation into nursing homes. How are these facilities taking care of people who need long-term help?
In north-central Wisconsin, things appear to be getting worse.
In the Newsline 9 viewing area, seven nursing homes were officially designated as offering a "substandard quality of care" in 2012 by the federal government. That's up from three homes in our area in 2011.
Statewide, 40 homes are on the list, up from 32 in 2011.
Newsline 9 combed through hundreds of pages of documents to find out what's going wrong at these nursing homes and what it means.
Benedictine Manor of Wausau sits on the city's north side. But this nursing home carries a troubling distinction. The federal government listed it as offering "substandard quality of care" in 2012. It was the same story in 2011.
Last year's label came primarily because of something that happened on July 4. According to federal reports from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a male resident got out of the facility, wandered across the road, and was found "lying in a 4 foot deep ditch in a wooded area." The report says the man "sustained abrasions to his left elbow."
How did this happen? According to the report, "facility staff had failed to ensure that all exit doors had been locked at 9 p.m. per facility policy."
For that, the nursing home got hit with a combined fine of more than $47,000.
This was one of nine federal citations Benedictine received in 2012. That's average for other nursing homes in Marathon County. But the nature of the citation involving the escaped resident qualified the home as offering "substandard quality of care."
Newsline 9 spoke with Otis Smith who oversees the Division of Quality Insurance for Wisconsin's Department of Health Services.
"Is this something that people should be concerned about when they see that designation?" asked Newsline 9's Daniel Woodruff.
"Yes, it should be," said Woods. "It is a category of violations that is so serious as to warrant additional scrutiny by the federal government."
Woods says the state conducts surveys of nursing homes on behalf of the federal government looking for any problems. When a nursing home receives a "substandard quality of care" label, that's not good.
"We expect almost immediate action to be taken," said Woods.
Janis Kivela Hooey, spokeswoman for Benedictine Health, wasn't available for an on-camera interview. But in a statement, she said, "All issues identified were corrected and the Benedictine Manor of Wausau is in full compliance with federal certification regulations."
In Taylor County, Gilman Care Center got hit with 13 federal citations in 2012. Two of them were especially serious.
According to the report, two male residents shared a room July 2011 until May 2012, but they didn't get along. One reportedly cursed at his roommate, threatened him, and even urinated on his bed.
The two men were eventually separated. But according to the report, Gilman Care Center was cited for failing "to ensure that resident #2 was free from abuse."
The nursing home received a penalty of just more than $4,000 for each violation. The administrator declined to comment.
Villa Pines Living Center in Friendship was hit with a $4,500 fine. The report says staff didn't do everything they could to prevent four residents from falling. One resident reportedly fell 21 times, but "no new interventions were put in place to keep Resident 1 safe."
Villa Pines Administrator Laurie Carlson wouldn't speak to Newsline 9 on camera, but she did agree to talk by phone.
"We immediately responded with an action plan to ensure the matter was resolved as quickly as possible. And within a short period of time, the state cleared us thereafter," said Carlson.
The home with the most citations in our viewing area--Strawberry Lane Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Wisconsin Rapids. It received 25 federal citations in 2012, most seriously for failing "to provide care and treatment to promote healing and prevent pressure ulcers."
Officials there ended up paying a penalty of almost $22,000. The administrator there never returned our calls.
Friendly Village Nursing and Rehab Center in Rhinelander was ordered to pay almost $7,000 for the same thing. No one from this home returned calls from Newsline 9 either.
The other two homes designated as offering substandard quality of care are in Marshfield--Norwood Health Center's Central and Pathways units. The administrator there never responded when asked for comment.
In addition to any fines, all these nursing homes face another penalty. They're not allowed to train new certified nursing assistants for two years.
It's obvious the consequences are serious when a nursing home falls on this list. But it's fair to ask, do these nursing homes simply have too many rules to follow? The regulations are very detailed. At Gilman Care Center, the home also was cited for failing to help a male resident brush his teeth and shave. How did this happen?
A staffer was quoted as saying, "honestly, we don't have time...we just try the best we can, but cannot get to everything."
Newsline 9's Daniel Woodruff asked the state about it.
"I have no comment on whether or not there's too many. We have an obligation to enforce what's in place," said Otis Woods, the DHS administrator. "The obligation is on the facility to make sure that the rules are followed all the time."
Those facilities are also obligated to accept the consequences if the rules aren't followed, as these seven nursing homes have had to do.
It's important to note, four nursing homes in our viewing area received no federal citations: Clark County Health Care Center in Owen, Golden Living Center-Golden Age in Tomahawk, Oakbrook Health and Rehabilitation in Thorp, and Park Manor in Park Falls