Thursday, August 29, 2002

Nursing home makes changes after death

Published in the Current

Improvements have been made at the Viking Community Nursing Home – where an Alzheimer’s patient wandered off and died earlier this month – but the facility is still being fined for what the state calls “substandard” care.

The finding of “immediate jeopardy” has been lifted, according to Helen Mulligan, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. But not all the problems have been fixed.

“The facility isn’t in total compliance,” Mulligan said. It is considered to be providing “substandard quality of care,” because of problems with record keeping and security, she said.

As a result, Viking is being fined $350 per day from Aug. 23, and is not eligible for Medicare payments for new admissions, she said. If the nursing home does not fix the problems, Mulligan said, its Medicare payment
agreement for existing patients will be terminated Feb. 13, 2003.

The nursing home remains in violation of federal requirements to prohibit “mistreatment, neglect and abuse of residents and misappropriation of resident property,” and to complete “a comprehensive care plan within seven days” of patient needs assessment, Mulligan said.

The Viking is the subject of state and federal scrutiny following the Aug. 9 death of Shirley Sayre, 77, who wandered out of a secure unit at the Viking and drowned in a culvert across Scott Dyer Road.

An initial investigation by state regulators found the nursing home placed several residents in “immediate jeopardy.” A $3,050 fine per day was levied Aug. 12 and remained in place until Aug. 22, requiring the Viking to pay$33,550 for that infraction.

Corrections plan accepted
Viking sent a plan of corrections to the state Department of Human Services Aug. 22, according to department spokesman Newell Augur. It has been accepted, after some minor revisions, he said.

State inspectors paid a surprise visit to the Viking the following day. “It wouldn’t have made any sense for us to go in before they’d filed a plan of corrections,” Augur said. Once a plan had been filed, though, the state wanted to check on things quickly, especially given the prospect of the Viking losing federal funding without a successful inspection, he said.

Door locks and alarms that had been malfunctioning during the Aug. 12 investigation had been fixed by the end of that day, and remained functional Aug. 23, Augur said. Individual care plans had been updated by Aug. 23, Augur said, but that’s not quite enough.

“They have completed the care plans for all the patients in the facility,” he said. “They haven’t proven to us that they can set up a system” to prevent future care plans from being incomplete.

Augur said the plan of corrections provides a strategy for doing just that, but it has not been tested yet.

Duane Rancourt, administrator at the Viking, said all the necessary corrections have been made and he is waiting for word from regulators that will allow the nursing home to admit new patients.

The biggest adjustment for staff and visitors is the keypad to get in and out of the building, he said. The code to the keypad is posted at the door, but he said that doesn’t give dementia patients an opportunity to get out because “they have a hard time with sequential things.”

Rancourt and the Viking staff also are taking advantage of a temporary slowdown in business to relocate the Medicare unit to the long-term care unit, a change that he had planned for some time, he said.

And despite regulatory criticism and scrutiny, the Viking is getting support from many family members of current and former patients.

Community support
One family member of a recent Viking Community patient, who asked not to be identified, told the Current that he was satisfied with what he called “excellent care” from Viking staff. He also said, “Alzheimer’s can strike anybody, and it always ends in death.” He went on to express support for the staff of the Viking, whom he said were “doing the best they can” dealing with patients with challenging conditions.

Selvin Hirshon, whose wife was an Alzheimer’s patient at the Viking for close to seven years before her death in February, said he strongly supports the Viking.

“I think it’s one of the best nursing homes” in the area, he said. Before moving his wife into the Viking, he said, he looked at “at least half a dozen nursing homes around here” and chose the Viking. “I think very highly of it," he said.

Hirshon said he has spoken with other family members of Viking residents who feel similarly. He said he knows a number of the staff, too, after spending “300 days a year for nearly seven years” visiting his wife. He said the staff and administration, including administrator Rancourt, “go out of their way” to be friendly to residents and to make it a nice place to live and work.

“I would give it a very high rating,” Hirshon said.