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May 2006

by Marvin Wasserman

January 10, 2006 - State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has just offered a report on staffing levels in nursing homes. You can access the report with the following link:

According to the report, "Numerous studies have shown a strong relationship between the hours of care a resident receives and the quality of care..."

The report further states that "about 98% of New York's nursing homes fall into the range at which, in the comprehensive federal study, quality of care for long-stay residents was shown to suffer. Staffing levels in about 70% of our homes do not meet the standards set in Florida; about 38% do not meet the standard in California; about 26% do not meet Vermont standards; about 25% do not meet Ohio's standard for registered nurses and about 3% don't meet the standards in Illinois...

"The consequences of understaffing can sometimes be tragic."

The staffing levels are based upon information provided by the nursing homes themselves, and even this paints a sorry picture. Unfortunately, New York State, unlike Florida, California, Vermont, Ohio and Illinois, has adopted no minimum standard, and a large number of nursing homes in New York City reported staffing levels below the minimum standards in all but one of these states, and several reported staffing levels below the minimum standard in all of them!

As you may know, many of us believe that nursing homes are similar to prisons, where senior citizens and persons with disabilities are warehoused. There is a governmental bias in favor of nursing homes, perhaps because of the money that nursing home owners funnel to political campaigns. The Olmstead Supreme Court decision is supposed to guarantee the right of individuals with disabilities to living in the community, but this decision has been difficult to implement because, among other things, the difficulty in locating low income accessible housing and the seeming lack of will of both the State and City governments.

Studies have shown that many are happier and live longer when living in his or her own home, and nursing home placement often shortens the lives of individuals.

While the Attorney General's Report focuses on staffing levels, which have a great deal to do with the health and well being of nursing home residents, I believe that this is not the entire story.

My mother-in-law was placed in a nursing home in my community several years ago. This nursing home comes off rather well in the AG's report, which does not jive with what I observed while visiting her there. There was always a foul odor in the hallways (which experts often cite as reason to avoid a particular nursing home). Moreover, I was appalled by what I called the "Alzheimer Room," in which residents who weren't lucid were herded into. In this room a television set, which virtually no one paid attention to, was turned "on." Many were lost in their own selves or talking to no one in particular. At the door, there was a burly aide standing guard to make sure that no one left the room. I was relieved that, for the first month or so, I never found my mother-in-law in that room. However, not long afterward, that was her permanent station for the day, and she died shortly after that.

According to this report, the top nursing homes in New York City were the William D. Beneson Rehabilitation Pavilion in Flushing and the Elizabeth Seaton Pediatric Center in Manhattan. These are the only two in the City who meet the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) standard for staffing levels.

The worst were the following nursing homes: Brooklyn/Queens Nursing Home, East Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation (Brooklyn), Haven Manor Health Care Center (Far Rockaway), Lilly Pond (Staten Island), Terrace Health Care Center (Bronx), Throggs Neck Extended Care (Bronx). CLOSE THEM DOWN!

According to my figures, there are about 21 others who meet the minimum staffing standard of only one state cited in the rankings. Noticeably, this includes Coler-Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island, where over 2,000 members of our community are warehoused, the largest facility of its kind in the country. CLOSE IT DOWN!