By Ted Sherman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com and Susan K. Livio | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Nine New Jersey nursing facilities — including the troubled pediatric care center in New Jersey where 11 children died last year in a deadly viral outbreak — may soon be ranked among the worst in the country.
The nine were among a list release earlier this week of hundreds of problem-plagued facilities with a history of serious quality issues.
Two nursing facilities in the state are already on the roster of 88 so-called “Special Focus Facilities” in the country by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. They are New Grove Manor in East Orange and Riverfront Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Pennsauken.
The Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, where the deadly adenovirus outbreak took the lives of nearly a dozen young patients, is the focus of ongoing federal and state investigations. In a report in February, CMS said the facility it said was ill-prepared to react to the rapid spread of a deadly strain of adenovirus that swept through its pediatric wards. The report poor infection controls, delays in seeking treatment of sick kids that led to significant medical complications, as well as inadequate administrative oversight.
The other New Jersey nursing homes identified as SFF candidates included:
· Millville Center in Millville
· Our Lady’s Center for Rehabilitation and HC in Pleasantville
· Care One at Evesham in Marlton
· Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Trenton—which shares ownership interests with Wanaque
· Sterling Manor in Maple Shade
· Waterview Center in Cedar Grove
· Summit Ridge Center in West Orange
· Roosevelt Care Center at Old Bridge.
Millville Center spokeswoman Christine Emrick said she encouraged the public to check out the nursing home’s ratings at nursinghomecompare.gov, which earned four out of five stars for staffing levels, two stars for quality and 4.3 stars for customer satisfaction.
"With that said, we are committed to providing high-quality care to our patients and residents and are always striving to improve quality and performance at the center,'' Emrick said.
Other nursing home representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wanaque Center was fined $600,000 in the wake of the outbreak. Attorneys for Wanaque Center have said they will contest the findings. But the nursing home’s possible designation as a Special Focus Facility, or SFF, indicates that CMS still has concerns over the quality of care at Wanaque, placing it among other facilities that have a pattern of serious health and safety violations.
An attorney for the Wanaque Center declined comment.
The previously undisclosed list of nursing homes being considered by CMS for inclusion in the SFF program was released earlier this week by U.S. Senators Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, who had sought more detail about more than 400 nursing homes facing added scrutiny.
Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, a nonprofit advocacy organization, applauded the Pennsylvania senators’ decision to make the list of possible contenders public for the first time.
“People want to know this information and they like these ‘hall of shame’ nursing home lists, so they can figure out where to put a loved one,” Lee said. “They can be more tenacious as an advocate.”
Toomey, in releasing the list, said “CMS has arbitrarily excluded from public disclosure” hundreds of underperforming nursing homes.
“When a family makes the hard decision to seek nursing home services for a loved one, they deserve to know if a facility under consideration suffers from systemic shortcomings. While the vast majority of nursing homes provide high-quality care, there are some that are consistently failing to meet objective standards of adequacy,” he said.
Casey said families deserve to have all the information available to choose the facility that is right for them.
“Across Pennsylvania, and the nation, most nursing homes serve their residents well and treat them with dignity and kindness. It is outrageous that we continue to hear stories of abuse and neglect in nursing homes that do not live up to these high standards,” he said in a statement.
During a conference call with the media Wednesday, CMS Chief Medical Officer Kate Goodrich said the list of 450 nursing homes which are candidates for inclusion would be posted to the agency’s website soon, although she did not say when.
Nursing homes are selected based on past inspection reports and complaint surveys, then, each state’s health department is asked to recommend whether these nursing homes deserve the added scrutiny, she said.
“We leave it up to the state, they know their community and nursing homes better than we do,” Goodrich said. She recommended the public use nursinghomecompare.gov to find out more information about a specific nursing home’s safety and quality history.
The list was created to flag nursing homes that have a lengthy track record of falling short on inspections and have failed to remedy the problems in a timely way.
“Such facilities with a ‘yo-yo’ or ‘in and out’ compliance history rarely addressed underlying systemic problems that were giving rise to repeated cycles of serious deficiencies,” according to the CMS website.
Once on the list, CMS inspectors give the nursing home operators from 18 months to 24 months to make recommended improvements. Time extensions may be granted. Failure to improve may jeopardize the nursing homes’ participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs and the millions of dollars that flow from them.
How the federal government calculates who deserves the closer scrutiny has always been something of a mystery, Lee said. After all, nearly 6,000 nursing homes earned only a one-star or two-star rating out of five on CMS’ own nursinghomecompare.gov, but only about 450 are on this special watch list, he said.
The impact of a nursing home landing on the list “is like dropping the hammer,” Lee said. “When they get on the national hall of shame watch list — more than they dislike the deficiencies, the fines, even the lawsuits. Once they are pegged as a nursing home with a bad name, people will stay away from you.”
New Grove Manor in East Orange, which has been on the list for 14 months, made progress during its last inspection in March, according to the CMS fact sheet.
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9 N.J. nursing homes may soon be ranked among the worst in the country