The Department of Justice issued a press release related to the sentencing of a nursing home employee who embezzled over $80,000.  Veneford Blankenship was sentenced to a year and a month in federal prison, announced United States Attorney Mike Stuart. Blankenship previously pleaded guilty to mail fraud. She was also ordered to pay $81,486.15 in restitution.

Blankenship worked at a nursing home in Princeton as the Business Office Supervisor where she oversaw the financial operations. Her duties included sending patient invoices, recording deposits in the nursing home’s accounting program, and depositing checks into the nursing home’s operations account. The nursing home also had another bank account, which allowed residents to collect funds that were occasionally spent on dinner, outings, and small events for residents. While the nursing home’s parent company received bank statements for its operations account, the parent company did not receive any statements for the other bank account.

Blankenship admitted that in June 2015, she began secretly diverting residents’ payment checks. Instead of depositing these checks into the operations account, she deposited the checks into the other bank account. She then wrote checks to herself from the other account, forging the signatures of the two individuals with signature authority. She hid her crime by writing false memos on the checks and indicating that the withdrawals were for legitimate nursing home purposes, when in reality she took the money for herself. She also falsely updated the nursing home’s accounting program to indicate that the residents paid invoices and that the nursing home received funds that she had stolen.

 

 

U.S. News reported that Veneford Blankenship, a nursing home employee in West Virginia, has been sentenced to one year and one month in federal prison in an embezzlement case.  Blankenship was sentenced for mail fraud in federal court in Charleston. She also was ordered to pay more than $81,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors say Blankenship was the business office supervisor at a Princeton nursing home and admitted to diverting residents’ payment checks into a bank account. She then wrote checks to herself, forging the signatures of two other individuals.

The Duluth News Tribune and Twin Cities Pioneer Press had articles on the tragic death of a resident at Bethel Care Center. When a St. Paul nursing home resident’s ventilator tube became detached and sounded an alarm during a worship service at the facility last summer, there weren’t any nursing staff around to help, according to a report by the Minnesota Department of Health.  Staff didn’t notice the detached tube for an hour, at which point it was too late to save the resident, the report said.

According to the Health Department:

Around 2 p.m. on July 16, 2017, the resident was brought to a church service in the nursing home. His ventilator was functioning properly. Two minutes later, his ventilator alarm sounded. A pastoral staff member claimed to hear the alarm, but he or she had previously been instructed to ignore it. About an hour later, the same staff member noted poor color in the resident and called for help.

Nursing staff arrived, reconnected the tubing and called emergency services. At 3:36 p.m., emergency medical services pronounced the resident dead.  The resident’s cause of death was listed as asphyxia due to disconnection of the ventilator tubing. The resident physician said he had recently examined the man and thought it unlikely he would have died otherwise, the report said.

 

The Daily Report reported on the recent nursing home verdict in Valdosta, Georgia where a jury compensated the family of a neglected resident with a $7.6 million verdict after the man died from complications of a bowel obstruction he suffered at Heritage Healthcare at Holly Hill nursing home.  The key issue was a lack of appropriate medical staff at the facility the night 71-year-old Bobby Copeland began vomiting and complaining of a distended abdomen in October 2012. When Copeland’s symptoms became obvious, the only medical staffer was a licensed practical nurse, who called an off-site physician assistant to ask whether to send Copeland to an emergency room less than a half-mile away.  The physician assistant allegedly said no and ordered some tests, but it was only the next day that Copeland was taken to the hospital, where he died hours later.  Had a registered nurse been available, she could have performed a skilled assessment of his symptoms and mental faculties. The nursing home had a policy of only using LPNs at night.

By the time Copeland got to the emergency room at South Georgia Medical Center, he was showing signs of having aspirated fecal matter in his lungs, and his stomach was severely distended.  Copeland died about 12 hours after arriving at the hospital.

Heritage Healthcare at Holly Hill is operated by Lowndes County Health Services, a division of the PruittHealth chain of nursing homes.

The jury found the nursing home liable for both ordinary and professional negligence and apportioned only 20 percent of the fault to the facility, with the rest divided among four nonparties.  The family offered to settle for $600,000 or $650,000 under Georgia’s offer of settlement statute, by which a party that declines a settlement offer and then loses at trial by at least 25 percent more than the rejected offer may have to pay the winning party’s attorney fees from the date of the offer.

The jury took about three hours to award $7.5 million for the value of Copeland’s life and $121,200 to his estate for pain and  suffering, medical and funeral expenses.

The panel allocated 20 percent of the liability to the nursing home, 35 percent apiece to the physician assistant and medical director, and 5 percent apiece to South Georgia Medical Center and the ER doctor.

 

Skilled Nursing News had some depressing news to report on nursing home caregiver wages.  “Hourly wages for nursing home employees who provide direct care and services tend to be lower than wages for the same job titles in assisted living facilities and continuing care retirement communities, recent survey findings show. But salaries for leadership titles and director positions did not follow the same trend.”  So management staff–all of which receive higher salaries in nursing homes on average than they do in assisted living facilities–are getting paid more but the actual caregivers get less despite having more responsibilities and work!  No wonder nursing homes have trouble keeping staff.

Certified nurse aides (CNAs), resident assistants, medication aides, activity aides, housekeeping staff, laundry staff, and maintenance, transportation and dining services staff all take in lower hourly wages at nursing homes than at assisted living facilities, the survey shows.

A staff nurse (RN) in a nursing home makes an average of $27.84 per hour versus a staff nurse in an assisted living facility, who makes $29.39 per hour — or roughly 5.6% less per hour, according to data released in the 20th annual Assisted Living Salary & Benefits Report, published by Hospital & Healthcare Compensation Service (HCS) this week. The comparable hourly wage in a CCRC was $28.90.

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in nursing homes make 6.8% less per hour than their assisted living counterparts, at $21.56 per hour versus $23.13 per hour in ALFs.

Several key players in the skilled nursing mergers-and-acquisitions space identified wage pressures as a key issue for providers in 2018, as the stable economy gives workers more choices and bargaining power.

Findings of the survey were collected from 602 respondents throughout the U.S., with data effective October 2017. The report is published in cooperation with LeadingAge and supported by the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL).

The Sun Sentinel reported the trauma suffered by first responders to Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center after Hurricane Irma. Many are still haunted by the dying nursing home residents they tried to save as they sweltered in a building with no air conditioning.  Some reported that it was cooler outside the nursing home than inside where the residents struggled to breathe in the heat.

“In a span of about three hours on Sept. 13, the Hollywood firefighter/paramedic and fellow crew members treated two critically ill residents. They had trouble breathing and registered body temperatures of 107.5 degrees. When the paramedics returned to the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center for a third time that day, they found the head nurse performing CPR on a dead male patient.

The lack of care that these people were experiencing and just the conditions they were experiencing,” Wohlitka said. “In all honesty, this call is still very much haunting.”

Wohlitka and other fire-rescue workers who responded to the nursing home testified in court. This is the first time the rescue workers who responded to the nursing home where 12 ultimately died have publicly given their accounts of what they saw during those deadly pre-dawn hours.  It was part of a series of hearings this week to determine whether the nursing home should be allowed to re-open. The nursing home is challenging the state’s move to revoke its license.

After finding the dead man, the crew decided to check out other residents. Wohlitka said he noticed a woman inside her room looked “unwell” from where he stood in the hallway. He tried to figure out if she was OK, but nursing home staff insisted they had already done their round of checks.  “I attempted to enter the room and evaluate her and I was stopped by a Hollywood Hills staff member who basically told me that they had just done rounds and everybody was fine,” he testified. “I asked her, ‘Are you sure? That woman doesn’t look good’ and she said, ‘No, she just looks like that.’

“I just felt bad for that woman,” Wohlitka said. “You beat yourself up and maybe I should have told that facility member ‘no,’ but an RN is higher than a firefighter and a paramedic. We had no reason to doubt her.”

But eventually the paramedics did doubt the competency of the nursing home staff.  “I believe that they were panicked, that they were overwhelmed by the amount of patients that we were deeming critical,” Parrinello testified.

 

As she tried checking on patients’ vital signs, she said the head nurse told her that his staff had already done that. Parrinello testified that at this point she doubted the staff had been truthful about their assessment of patients. She said she told the head nurse: ’Well, you told me that before and now we have multiple deceased patients. So, with all due respect, I don’t trust your judgment and we’re going to check everyone ourselves.’

Ultimately, a dozen residents died from heat exposure and the medical examiner determined their deaths to be homicides.

Said Wohlitka, the firefighter/paramedic: “The uncomfortable heat alone was unbearable for myself, I won’t speak for anybody else. I was very uncomfortable inside the facility; I can only imagine what somebody who wasn’t able to go outside or get out was dealing with. I think it’s pretty evident… it just wasn’t safe.”

 

The Philly Inquirer reported that three unsecured creditors (Healthcare Services Group Inc., McKesson Medical-Surgical Minnesota Supply Inc., and Medline Industries) have filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against New Castle Health and Rehabilitation Center nursing home that is part of a chain of 22 facilities, mostly in Pennsylvania, that were put into receivership in September by their landlord.

The creditors said in their Jan. 12 petition that New Castle Health and Rehabilitation Center owed them a total of $262,529.

The owner of the New Castle nursing home is Oak Health & Rehabilitation Centers Inc., a nonprofit headed by Bala Cynwyd lawyer Howard Jaffe. Oak was formed to take over 22 former Extendicare facilities, including 20 in Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia, in additional to the New Castle facility, in 2015.

 The landlords of the Oak facilities, affiliates of Formation Capital, a major player nationally in nursing-home ownership, put all 22 Oak facilities in receivership, a state court alternative to bankruptcy that provides no protection for unsecured creditors, after Oak missed at least three rent payments totaling $10.5 million.

The goal of the receivership was to bring in a new operator for the nursing home with no guarantee of money for vendors’ unpaid bills.

 

CBS News reported a disturbing trend on the leading causes of death in America.  For the first time since records have been kept, preventable injuries have become the third leading cause of death in the United States, the National Safety Council (NSC) announced. In fact, data shows that preventable deaths rose 10 percent in 2016.

The increase was due to an uptick in fatal motor vehicle crashes and drug overdoses, particularly the ongoing opioid crisis. The opioid crisis claimed the lives of 37,814 people who overdosed on prescription opioid pain relievers, fentanyl and heroin in 2016. Heart disease and cancer still top the list as the leading causes of death in the United States

Other significant causes of preventable deaths in the report include falling — a growing concern as the population ages — choking and drowning.

The truth is, there is no such thing as an accident,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Every single one of these deaths was preventable. We know what to do to save lives, but collectively, we have failed to prioritize safety at work, at home and on the road.

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According to the National Safety Council, accidental injury has become the third leading cause of death in the United States.

 NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL

The agency’s analysis found that one American is injured every second and one is killed every three minutes by a preventable accident. In total, 161,374 people died of preventable injuries in 2016. Only heart disease and cancer are responsible for more deaths.

 

Healthcare Finance News reported on how many for-profit chains are cheating the Five-Star Quality Rating System on Nursing Home Compare. The five-star rating system that Medicare uses to compare nursing homes is made up of three components: employing a base score from an on-site inspection, along with two scores from information on staffing and quality reported by the facility.  These overall ratings have climbed higher as self-reported scores have inexplicably trended upward.

A new study of nursing homes in California, the nation’s largest system, by faculty at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Connecticut found that nursing homes inflate their self-assessment reporting to improve their score in the Five-Star Quality Rating System employed by Medicare to help consumers.   Among the findings were that nursing homes that have more to gain financially from higher ratings are more likely to improve their overall rating through self-reporting.

The report states “We find a significant association between the changes in a nursing home’s star rating and its profits, which points to a financial incentive for nursing homes to improve the ratings.”

USA today reported that Phyllis Campbell, a nursing home resident with dementia and a history of wandering off, was outside in temperatures hovering around zero for about eight hours before staff members noticed she was missing and found her dead from hypothermia, a state investigation found.

The state’s findings say Campbell had wandered into the courtyard twice during the week before she died and that she got out of her room several times that day and said, “I’m going home.”

The woman told a nurse’s aide she was going home.  She went through a door into a courtyard even though she was wearing a monitor that should have set off alarms, the report said.  Tests later showed the sensors did not always work, the state’s report said. Staff members also told investigators the device didn’t always work.

Two aides told investigators they did not do scheduled checks that night even though they were marked as completed, according to the Ohio Department of Health investigation.  She was found in the courtyard about 30 feet from its doors the morning of Jan. 7.