October 6, 2013

Latest reports show no serious problems in central Maine nursing homes

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Gwen Blodgett, 78, of Skowhegan, is weighing nursing home options for her husband of 60 years, Gerald, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

click image to enlarge

Barbara McCutcheon, left, a recreation assistant at Oak Grove Center in Waterville, speaks with resident Mary Getchell during activity time Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

How to check a nursing home

Data and inspection reports for nursing homes can be seen at www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare and www.projects.propublica.org/nursing-homes.

Gerald is living at an Alzheimer’s care center in Gardiner, but she knows at some point he won’t be able to care for himself.

“You just never know how long it’s going to be,” she said. “That’s why they call it a long goodbye.”

When the time comes, Blodgett said, she is leaning toward Cedar Ridge, a 75-bed home in Skowhegan. She’s comfortable with the staff, who she’s seen care for family members and friends over the years. Others whose opinions she knows and trusts — including her neighbor and her hairdresser — have also reported positive experiences at Cedar Ridge.

Blodgett doesn’t expect perfection from a nursing home and knows that they all have some problems.

“It’s probably unavoidable,” she said.

Ceder Ridge is one of five central Maine nursing homes that show no serious deficiencies in a batch of reports recently released on Medicare’s website. The most recent batch of reports, which are published periodically, cover about 40 of Maine’s 107 nursing homes, including five in central Maine.

The five central Maine nursing homes, in Augusta, Hartland, Pittsfield and Waterville, had deficiencies, but they were less serious than those found in other areas of the state.

The ability to track nursing home problems became easier in July 2012 under a provision in the Affordable Care Act, which requires the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to publish the full report of each federal nursing home inspection on its website, Nursing Home Compare.

The reports help consumers learn which residences have the highest quality healthcare and can also lead to improvements, according to Courtney Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the federal center.

With Cedar Ridge’s inspections and ratings online, Blodgett can see what problems have been documented.

The most recent inspection found two deficiencies, neither categorized as serious.

The first was for having separated seams in the floor of the whirlpool room, while the second was for having a freezer that allowed condensation to drip and freeze on items including sealed bags of frozen Brussels sprouts.

Overall, Cedar Ridge gets four of five possible stars from the government, a quality rating of above average.

As it turns out, Blodgett’s positive impressions of Cedar Ridge match its positive rating, but that’s not always the case.

Causing harm

About 40 reports documenting inspector visits between March and August were recently published online by Pro Publica, a journalism and public advocacy organization. The results are published and analyzed under Nursing Home Inspect on Pro Publica’s website.

Some are minor, such as a failure to record the temperature of food or a missing thermostat cover.

Of about 1,600 deficiencies documented during the last three years, the large majority resulted in no actual harm. Industry leaders say the transparency is welcome, but deficiencies should be put in the proper context.

Maine’s rate of serious deficiencies, 0.06 per nursing home, is 10th lowest in the nation, according to a data analysis by Pro Publica.

One Waterville administrator said Maine’s good record is the result of effective state oversight and programs that allow residents to take more control over their environment. Federal inspectors visit each of Maine’s 107 nursing homes annually to document deficiencies, categorized into different levels of severity, depending on the level of harm caused. Nursing homes typically respond with a correction plan.

The most serious violations documented in the state during that inspection period were at Narraguagus Bay Health Care Facility in Milbridge and Mercy Home in Eagle Lake, two nursing homes rated below average by the federal government, with two of five stars. 

(Continued on page 2)

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