About one-fifth of all nursing homes in Maine have below-average overall ratings in a federal comparison of nursing homes nationwide.

Nearly 40 percent of the 108 nursing and rehabilitation centers across the state have below-average health inspection ratings, according to Nursing Home Compare at Medicare.gov.

Among them is the Newton Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Sanford, where maggots were discovered on a patient’s ankle this week. It has a two-star, “below average” overall rating and a one-star, “much below average” health inspection rating.

Newton Center officials said neither the discovery of maggots nor the nursing home’s low ratings indicate neglect at the 74-bed facility, which is affiliated with Goodall Hospital.

Medicare’s five-star rating system is one of the few resources to help families find safe, caring, comfortable long-term care facilities for their loved ones, and even its proponents say it shouldn’t be the only measure.

“It’s a good place to start,” said Brenda Gallant, Maine’s independent ombudsman for long-term care. “I think the information is helpful, but it’s only one part of the process.”

Gallant said larval infestations are rare in Maine nursing homes, but she wouldn’t comment further on the Sanford case before the licensing and regulatory division of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services issues its report. When that will happen is unclear.

A state inspector spent Thursday at the Newton Center. A nurse noticed the maggots and treated the patient on Sunday afternoon, during a regular skin check. The nursing home reported the incident to the DHHS on Monday. The incident was reported by Maine news media Wednesday.

The DHHS — the state agency that oversees nursing homes — keeps no comprehensive or comparative information about long-term care facilities that is readily available to the public, DHHS spokesman John Martins said Friday.

To get such information, someone must submit a formal request and wait an undetermined period because the DHHS doesn’t keep aggregated, comparative data on nursing home inspections, Martins said.

“We would have to manually review records for every individual nursing home,” said Martins, who worked previously as spokesman for Goodall Hospital.

Getting that information from the DHHS could be expensive, depending on how much data is requested.

The Medicare review and rating system gives a glimpse of life at each nursing home, in areas broadly categorized as quality care, resident rights, nutrition, pharmacy, environment and administration.

Compared with nursing homes across the United States, nursing homes in Maine have 35 percent fewer deficiencies cited during inspections, according to the Nursing Home Compare website.

The average number of problems cited at Maine nursing homes is 4.8 per inspection, compared with 7.4 nationally.

As a result, nearly 60 percent of Maine’s nursing homes have above-average overall ratings and 20 percent have average overall ratings.

Among the 20 percent with below-average overall ratings, only three have one-star “much below average” ratings: Eastport Memorial Nursing Home in Eastport, Rumford Community Home in Rumford and Brentwood Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Yarmouth.

Brentwood’s administrator didn’t respond to a call for comment Friday.

Nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding must submit their most recent state inspection reports to the federal government, so those documents are available at Nursing Home Compare. Inspection reports also must be posted or readily available at each nursing home.

“The most important thing you can do is look at the inspection report,” said Gallant, the ombudsman. “The inspectors thoroughly look at all aspects of the care that residents receive, and that will give you a good indication of the care that’s provided at that facility.”

Gallant recommends that families review inspection reports with nursing home administrators, asking them to explain each problem cited and how it was resolved. She also suggests walking through each facility, checking things such as cleanliness, air temperature and general atmosphere.

“A good time to visit is mealtime,” Gallant said. “What does that look like? How does the staff interact with residents? Are residents getting the assistance they need?”

Family members should visit nursing homes several times before deciding where a loved one should live, said Richard Erb, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, an organization that represents nursing homes.

“Any facility should welcome a spontaneous visit,” Erb said. “We encourage people to visit a facility at different times of the day to see how it functions overall.”

Erb said the Medicare rating system is helpful but it doesn’t give a complete picture of a nursing home. He said ratings are often out of date, so consumers must investigate further to see the scope and severity of deficiencies or problems noted in inspection reports.

At the Newton Center, for instance, last year’s inspection turned up 14 deficiencies, ranging from dried food on wheelchairs to problems with medication delivery. Nearly all of them posed “minimal harm or potential for actual harm.”

Erb said the Medicare rating system “leaves something to be desired, and it doesn’t replace doing your due diligence. It’s an indication of compliance, but not a measure of true quality.”

Erb suggested asking nursing homes for the results of satisfaction surveys done by outside firms. He said more and more nursing homes are having those surveys done, to improve service and attract residents.

Gallant said the state’s inspection reports are much more valid tools. She said the licensing and regulatory division of the DHHS does thorough investigations for annual license renewals and in response to complaints.

She urged anyone who needs help searching for a nursing home or has concerns about a nursing home to contact her office or the licensing division. Gallant’s agency provides free, confidential information that stops short of recommending one facility over another.

“There are some very good providers out there,” Gallant said. “Are there problems? Absolutely. Do we have to be vigilant? Absolutely.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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