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    6 nursing homes lose contracts

    The state ends Medicaid contracts because of poor care, affecting 628 patients and three bay area homes.

    By SHELBY OPPEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- State health care officials are canceling Medicaid contracts with six Florida nursing homes cited repeatedly for poor patient care, including three homes in the Tampa Bay area.

    The action means 628 Medicaid recipients must move to other facilities before Nov. 1, when the state will stop reimbursing the homes for the cost of the patients' care, state officials said Monday. About 150 to 200 non-Medicaid patients in the targeted homes also could soon face tough decisions, because the state's action threatens the homes' financial health.

    The three bay area homes are Abbey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in St. Petersburg, Rehabilitation and HealthCare Center of Tampa, and Crystal Springs Nursing and Rehabilitation in Thonotosassa.

    The others are Colonial Oaks Rehabilitation in Fort Myers, the Magnolias in Pensacola and Greenwood Rehabilitation in West Palm Beach.

    Gov. Jeb Bush joined Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Ruben J. King-Shaw at a news conference Monday to announce the canceled contracts, at a time when Bush's brother, GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush, is trying to show voters that he cares about seniors.

    The contracts were not canceled sooner because the process for evaluating the homes is a new one, and "we wanted to make sure that we did it right," Jeb Bush said.

    "The fact is, we're doing it, and it should send a signal out to everybody that quality of care is a number one priority in this state for our frail elders," he said.

    State Medicaid officials reviewed two years of complaint records for each of Florida's 675 nursing homes, singling out the six as "chronic, traditional bottom-performers," King-Shaw said.

    At Abbey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, 7101 Ninth St. N in St. Petersburg, agency officials on visits last September and October found residents in soiled wheelchairs, the armrests sticky with food, according to agency records. A female patient lay in a broken bed, her feet tilted 30 degrees toward the ceiling. Other residents were found languishing in wet disposable underwear or lying in feces.

    At Rehabilitation and HealthCare Center of Tampa, 4411 N Habana Ave., residents with open sores were left untended, patients were overly sedated because employees didn't follow medical plans, and a male resident wandered off without employees' knowledge, according to a November 1998 report by state investigators.

    At Crystal Springs Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 12006 McIntosh Road in Thonotosassa, a nursing aide repeatedly yelled and cursed at patients while his co-workers did nothing, according to a January 1998 report. One woman lost 22 percent of her body weight within five months of admission, according to a January 2000 report.

    In many cases, the homes corrected individual problems cited by investigators, agency files showed. All six homes, however, have histories of fines and penalties for providing below-standard care that ultimately led to the cancellation of the Medicaid contracts.

    Calls to the three Tampa Bay area homes were not returned Monday. A spokeswoman for Vencor Inc., which owns Abbey Rehabilitation and Nursing Center and Rehabilitation and HealthCare Center of Tampa, did not return calls.

    The state's action comes amid troubled times for the nursing home industry, with large chains including Vencor and Integrated Health Services, owner of the Thonotosassa home, already in bankruptcy protection.

    Two-thirds of elderly nursing home patients rely on Medicaid to help pay for their care. Industry advocates complain that inadequate reimbursement rates set by the federal government, along with million-dollar jury verdicts against negligent nursing homes, are driving the homes out of business.

    Eighty percent of Florida nursing homes are losing money, said Ed Towey, who heads the industry's association in Tallahassee.

    "The No. 1 threat to continued quality of care in Florida nursing homes is this deluge of lawsuits," he said.

    State health care and social service officials arrived at the targeted facilities Monday to inform residents and help them find new homes before Nov. 1. The assistance is also available to non-Medicaid residents who want to leave the facilities. The state has stationed two registered nurses at each home to monitor quality of care over the next few weeks, King-Shaw said.

    The state has set up a hotline for residents and families with questions about the Medicaid contract cancellations: (800) 475-0127.

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