When you go to a restaurant in New York City, you see prominently displayed a rating from the Health Department based on inspections. If it is less than an A, you might think about going elsewhere.
When you go to a nursing home in New York state, you don’t see those ratings prominently placed, but they do exist. And if they were given a bit more publicity, were a mandatory part of the marketing, perhaps those homes that have less than stellar scores would be more inspired to improve their services.
As our elderly population increases, we need a better chance at finding out where a nursing home falls short and what it has done to correct deficiencies. And when it comes to one nursing home in the area, Sapphire Nursing and Rehab at Goshen, recent news stories and inspection results tell a troubling story.
The home is being sued by a current resident and the estate of a deceased resident, with accusations of substandard care caused by a shortage of staff. The nursing home has all but acknowledged the staffing problem, saying that it has been corrected. And before the lawsuit was filed, there was a lot of public pressure from local and state-level officials to get the residents the help they need and had paid for.
But the larger story here is not about what the owners of Sapphire did after they took over the nursing home. It is about the difficulty people have finding out exactly what is going on so they can make informed decisions about whether they or family members should go there.
The state Health Department profile of the home shows clearly how much changed for the worst when the new owners took over. Annual inspections, which are listed in great detail, show that up until the transfer of ownership there were a few citations each year, most often for problems with equipment and occasionally for patient care. In the January inspection after the new owners took over, the number of citations exploded, providing a lengthy list of filth and neglect, similar to the complaints listed in the lawsuit.
The citations went into great detail about the lack of adequate staffing, a problem first brought to the public’s attention when employees protested about layoffs leaving inadequate numbers in crucial major categories — certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses.
The state reported that all of the violations had been corrected after re-inspection in April, and the owners have said they will increase staff, although they refuse to go into more detail.
As a recent story in the Times Herald-Record noted, Sapphire is not the only nursing home with such a history of citations. But it is no comfort to know that it took picketing, pressure from elected officials and a long list of official deficiencies to bring staffing and care back toward normal. And there is no guarantee that these improvements will continue.
What we need are more inspections of these institutions, with more public accountability. A good start would be a requirement to post the results prominently in the lobby for all to see.