This is something to think about if you are facing a nursing home decision for a loved one. More than 40 percent of all homes in Georgia are ranked below average, with half of those ranked well below average in quality.
That is according to a FOX 5 I-Team calculation of Medicare's 5-star ranking system, which you can link to at the bottom of this report.
We calculated that a high number of low ranked Georgia nursing homes while researching a report about a woman who struggled to find her brother the best care she could. What she got, she says, was a nursing home nightmare.
Wendy Samples has vivid memories of her big brother. But Ed Morris was not just any boy. He was deaf from the age of 2, learning to love sign language. His way to survive, then later thrive, living his life on his own.
“He was just one of the sweetest caring guys, he was the guy who would do anything for you,” says Samples.
Then, earlier this year, Ed Morris at the age of 56, was diagnosed with a disease that would devastate that life. She says he had spinal stenosis which caused paralysis so he could no longer use sign language.
Ed Morris had emergency surgery on his neck at St. Joseph's hospital. The stenosis left him completely paralyzed, he wore a halo to keep his head in place, and he was on a ventilator due to a tracheotomy. After a month in acute care, the family moved him to Douglasville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
But, about a month later, Wendy said the Douglasville center called and said her brother was sick and had been rushed to Intensive Care at St. Joseph's hospital. There, the family was stunned at what they found. Spelled out in his medical records, and in complaints to the state - later filed by Wendy.
His medical records show Ed Morris had "maggots in his skin around the halo site, as well as stage 4 wounds - commonly called bedsores - and foul odor from his (tracheotomy) trach site."
Medical records showed St. Joseph's was so concerned about what it found, an employee immediately alerted the state ombudsman - a nursing care advocate - and asked her to follow up with Douglasville Health and Rehab and find out what went wrong.
After the ordeal, Wendy Samples saw Medicare's review of nursing homes in Georgia for the first time... Once again, she was stunned.
Medicare rated Douglasville Nursing and Rehab as Much Below Average. With an overall rating of 1 out of a possible 5 stars, including 24 health citations in the past year, 6 of them considered "immediate jeopardy" to patients.
Medicare fined the facility $235,799 after one inspection in October of 2016. One issue: a staff member mixed a laxative with a Pine-Sol cleaner, thinking it was green tea, and gave it to a resident. Inspection notes show "the resident sustaining burning in her throat and requiring a transfer to the hospital."
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services wrote us to say Douglasville Nursing paid its fine and "achieved substantial compliance" in April of this year.
The Douglasville Nursing and Rehab nursing home director issued a statement saying, due to privacy rights, she can't discuss residents. She pointed out her home was surveyed twice this year and "no substandard quality of care deficiencies" were found.
Wendy Samples says her brother was moved to several different nursing homes. She says the open wound on his back never healed, he got pneumonia over and over, and 3 months after leaving Douglasville, he died in a different facility.
“I miss him greatly. He was wonderful,” says Samples.
Former US Attorney John Horn spent years battle elder abuse in the US Attorney's office. His team used creative legal tactics to criminally prosecute nursing home owners for neglect and abuse. He doesn't know anything about the case in Douglasville. But, he was surprised when we showed him Medicare statistics that show 42 percent of all nursing homes in Georgia are rated below average or much below average.
“It does surprise me,” says Horn. “What we are concerned about is, any percentage whatever it is, is too high.”
So how do you protect yourself and your loved ones? Based on our talks with former US Attorney John Horn, Wendy Samples, and nursing home advocates here are our recommendations for dealing with a loved one in any nursing home situation.
Start here. The Medicare nursing home comparison website. Just plug in your home’s name and you can see its Medicare ratings and inspection reports.
If you feel like there is abuse going on in a nursing home, here is one place to file a complaint. We strongly recommend that you take action if you feel a loved one has been neglected or harmed.
AARP has a wealth of information about being a caregiver, comparing costs, and options while taking care of a loved one.
Propublica has done a fabulous job of gathering nursing home data and making it easy to search. Inspection reports, deficiencies, and penalties are easily within your reach.
The Department of Justice has set up Elder Justice Task Forces. The Elder Justice Task Forces. Another place to turn for complaints and information about nursing homes in our area.