Editorial: Family's complaints show regulators are failing in their oversight of nursing homes - The Buffalo News

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Editorial: Family's complaints show regulators are failing in their oversight of nursing homes

Two obvious conclusions can safely be drawn from the horror story told last month by the family members of a woman nearing death in a nursing home that one daughter described as the “gateway to hell.”

One is that families should check the public records on nursing homes before making any decisions. The other is that regulators, including the state and federal governments, need to do a better job in flagging deficiencies in nursing homes and pressuring them to improve.

That’s provable, based on government reports and the regrets of two sisters who told a News reporter a horror story about the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Niagara County. What is anecdotal are the details of the mistreatment they said was visited on Marion Halstead over 11 days before she was moved to Niagara Hospice House. She died there on July 10.

Relatives said Halstead, suffering from stage 4 colorectal cancer, was ignored when she requested necessary help to use the restroom. As a result, she sometimes soiled herself. A patient ate discarded food from a cart, to the indifference of staff when it was reported. A staff member struck the dying woman in the face. The employee was later suspended.

Pervading it all, said daughters Liz Kline and Linda Schumacher, was a lack of compassion shown to a woman near the end of her life.

Government reports back up the conclusion that the facility was substandard. The federal Medicare program rated the Newfane facility as “much below average” when compared with other nursing homes. New York State Department of Health records show that the Newfane facility received 52 complaints from 2013 to 2016. A Medicaid report based on an inspection in March cited dirty toilet areas, urine odors and dead bugs.

People approaching their deaths should not be treated worse than cattle. Regulators need to do more than produce reports that have no effect. Follow-up is the key.

Meanwhile, families seeking care for a loved one should do their own research. Find important information on websites such as:

• medicare.gov

• medicaid.gov

• health.ny.gov

Even if state and federal governments improve their performances in overseeing nursing homes, the experience of Marion Halstead’s family painfully demonstrates the value of personal research. Let the buyer beware.

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