A recent report from the U.S. Senate shows six nursing home facilities across Montana, including Heritage Place in Kalispell, are on the federal government’s radar for “poor performance.”
The report, “Families’ and Residents’ right to know: uncovering poor care in America’s nursing homes,” was issued by Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican. It highlights what is known as the Special Focus Facility program headed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
According to the report, the program is designed to “increase oversight of facilities that persistently underperform in required inspections conducted by state survey agencies.” The nursing homes have been cited for instances of “outright neglect, such as going without proper nutrition or languishing in filthy conditions,” and more.
The Special Focus Facility program is divided into two portions: actual participants and potential candidates.
According to the report, the names of current participating facilities were made available to the public, but the names of those deemed ‘candidates’ were not, despite being “indistinguishable” from those actually participating in the program.
The participants list includes a maximum of 88 nursing homes nationwide that are the focus of frequent federal surveillance and “progressive enforcement actions.” Of the six Montana nursing homes identified on the nationwide list, Crest Nursing Home in Butte is the only one to make the program’s list of participants.
The Montana facilities that have made the candidates’ list, along with some 400 other facilities nationwide, include Heritage Place in Kalispell, Big Sky Care Center in Helena and Montana Mental Health Nursing Home in Lewistown.
Officials with Heritage Place released a statement regarding the report Wednesday morning, saying, “We are working with the medical community and communities at large to improve and create sustainable quality of care. Staffing and education are keys to our success!”
The prepared statement also pointed to a shift in operational ownership that took place in the fall of 2018, stressing how “turnaround situations are never easy,” and new regional, local administrative and clinical leadership members have been hired. According to Canon, “it was a rapid transition to the eminent bankruptcy of the prior operating company.”
The former operating company, Welcov, took over for Lantis Enterprises in 2012, which once again took over operations in 2018. According to the statement, the same company oversees Big Sky Care Center, which also made the Special Focus Facility program’s candidates list.
However, the statement stressed that both facilities have “cleared their surveys with all corrections approved.” Officials with Heritage Place elaborated, stating that since making the list of candidates for the program, the facilities have submitted “plans for correction” to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid and are currently operating in “substantial compliance” with those.
The Special Focus Facility program emerged from the Nursing Home Reform Act, which established strict requirements for nursing homes after an Institute of Medicine study, released in the late 1980s, revealed subpar care in nursing homes across America. The report spurred Congress to enact reforms in order to “enhance care quality and ensure fair treatment among seniors and people with disabilities in nursing homes,” including one that required Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to inspect failing nursing homes more regularly.
The 88 participants are required by law to be surveyed no less than once every six months. The candidates on the other hand, only need to be surveyed once every 15 months.
Sens. Casey and Toomey hope to continue working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to assure any future lists of both participants and candidates are made public.
“Through the release of the SFF candidate list and this report, which details preliminary findings from surveys and public information about these candidate facilities, the senators aim to provide Americans and their families with the transparency and information they deserve when choosing a home in which to entrust the care of a loved one,” the report states.
Participants and candidates combined make up only a small portion of nursing homes — about 3 percent of the more than 15,700 nationwide.
Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake,com