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Birmingham nursing home first in state to fail program

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A Birmingham nursing home that will close early next month is the first in Alabama not to meet the requirements of a federal program that conducts inspections and links financing to improved care.

Administrators at Pleasant Grove Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, licensed for 185 residents, learned Feb. 2 that the center would stop receiving Medicaid and Medicare payments because the home failed to improve services within 18 months. One problem occurred in October when a resident wandered out after 3 a.m. and broke a leg.

Five Alabama nursing homes have been placed in the federal Special Focus Facility Program since it began in 1999, state Bureau of Health Provider Standards director Rick Harris said Tuesday. Homes picked for the program have had problems in providing proper care.

Nursing homes were allowed to remain in the program indefinitely as they made improvements, but a December 2004 policy change by program officials set an 18-month deadline to improve or lose the funding.

"This is better," Harris said of the 18-month deadline. "It's kind of like people getting DUI tickets. You don't want them to keep driving drunk until they finally stop. You want to tell them that at some point you better quit getting DUI tickets or you're going to lose your license."

Alabama is required to have a minimum of two nursing homes in the program, said Stephanie Davis, a manager for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

long-term care enforcement division.

CMS provides each state with a list of low-performing nursing homes and health officials select which homes will participate in the program. The number of participants varies depending on the number of licensed homes in the state.

Nursing homes selected are inspected every six months. The usual recommendation is once annually, but Harris said those deadlines are often not met because of a backlog of pending inspections due to staffing restraints in the health department.

There were 14 Alabama homes on the current list provided by CMS, and health officials have chosen two of them for the program, but they have not yet been informed, Harris said.

The other nursing home that was in the program with Pleasant Grove made improvements and "graduated" out of it, he said.

Investigators found several serious violations in their inspections at Pleasant Grove. Among the most serious was an Oct. 31, 2006 incident where a resident with a history of wandering was found with a fractured leg on a cement driveway of an apartment complex more than 100 yards away from the nursing home.

According to health department records, the man left the center at 3:08 a.m. and was not found until four hours later when he was taken to a local hospital. The home's Wanderguard alarm sounded, but an employee disabled the alarm at 3:15 a.m. without checking to see if anyone had left the building.

"It's an unfortunate set of circumstances," Pleasant Grove attorney Richard Brockman said Tuesday. "Pleasant Grove is taking every step necessary to ensure the safety and welfare of its residents as it deals with its regulatory issues."

The nursing home was licensed for 185 residents and "large numbers" of them have already been transferred to other facilities, Brockman said.

CMS spokeswoman Lee Millman said it's not the agency's practice to release the names of nursing homes in the program, but urged consumers to take the care of their loved ones into their own hands and do as much research on nursing homes "as they can."

"See how a facility ranks with other facilities in the state," she said. "This information is there (on the program's web site) for every consumer so they don't have to make this important decision at the last minute."

On the Net:

Information on the federal program at: www.medicare.gov click on "Compare Nursing Homes in Your Area" search tool.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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