Panel Hears Nursing Home Testimony
Panel Hears Nursing Home Testimony
Jul. 28, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ellen Curzon put her 6-foot-tall, 185-pound husband in a San Diego County, Calif., nursing home in January 1994 after he was weakened by two strokes, suffering from dementia and she couldn't care for him at home anymore.
Six months later, he was dead, partly because of care received during a two-month stay at the now-closed facility, she told the Senate Special Committee on Aging at a hearing Monday.
In a seven-week period, she said her husband lost 35 pounds, developed buttock ulcers, became dehydrated and suffered bruises from arm restraints. His dentures couldn't fit correctly because of the weight loss, which led to oral sores and difficulty chewing, she added.
There were other problems, too.
``Every single day I had to literally hunt for someone to change him because when I would arrive about 10 a.m. he was always wet,'' the Lakeside, Calif., said.
``Nothing ever seemed to change,'' she said, despite complaints about his care.
He was admitted to a hospital after becoming severely ill. His kidneys began to fail because of the dehydration and he received a feeding tube after losing the ability to swallow. Released to a more ``compassionate and professional'' nursing home, he died there in June 1994.
``I firmly believe my husband would have lived longer and certainly would never have suffered the agony he did if I had been able to place him there at the outset,'' she said.
The hearing, continuing today, focused on the quality of care in California nursing homes after allegations that more than 3,100 patients died in 1993 because of malnutrition, dehydration, bed sores and infections were brought to the committee more than a year ago.
California officials declined to testify in person, but in written testimony, Kimberly Belshe, the state's health director, criticized the focus on California.
``Had this report compared California's performance with other states, the GAO would have determined that California has been one of the most aggressive states'' in pursuing alleged nursing home abuses, she wrote.
In addition, Belshe criticized the focus on 1993, two years before legislation designed to improve federal oversight of nursing homes took effect. She also noted that new procedures for investigating complaints against nursing homes took effect July 1. The program also includes criminal background checks for certified nurse assistants and centralized licensing process.
In a report, prepared at the request of the panel's chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and released Monday, the General Accounting Office, the investigative branch of Congress, said residents in 34 of 62 randomly sampled cases from California received care that was ``unacceptable and that sometimes endangered their health and safety,'' including inadequate intervention to prevent dramatic weight losses and failure to properly treat bed sores.
But, the GAO cautioned that without autopsy information, ``we cannot be conclusive about the extent to which this unacceptable care may have contributed directly to individual deaths.''
The GAO also said weaknesses in federal-state oversight of nursing homes increase the likelihood that such problems escape scrutiny. It recommended, among other things, that required inspections of facilities be staggered to make such visits less predictable.
The federal government shelled out $28 billion in 1997 for nursing home care nationwide, $2 billion of it going to California through Medicaid and Medicare programs, GAO said. The nation's most populous state has more than 1,400 facilities containing more than 141,000 beds, it said.