Clayton County nursing homes incompliance

By Justin Reedy

Patricia Birdsong has some problems with the service her brother is receiving at Sunbridge Care and Rehabilitation of Riverdale.

They don't bath him or trim his beard, Birdsong said, and she's been complaining for three years now, ever since her other brother sent their 45-year-old sibling Michael Birdsong who suffers from multiple sclerosis to the facility on Upper Riverdale Road.

"They take advantage of me because I'm not there to watch him and they know nobody else comes to visit him," said Birdsong who lives in Lawrenceville.

While all of the county's nursing homes are currently in compliance with state guidelines, state officials say the process of handling complaints is ongoing.

It's not the first complaint about service at the Sunbridge facility, which had been the target of previous lawsuits and a state investigation. Sunbridge was also included on a list of questionable nursing homes provided on the Consumer's Union Web site.

The lawsuits have been settled and Kendra Ferrero, Georgia regional manager for Sunbridge, said the information on the Consumer's Union list was out of date. The Sunbridge facility in Riverdale is under new management, Ferrero said, and is in compliance with state regulations.

Regarding Birdsong's concerns, facility director Marvell Butts last handled a complaint from Birdsong on March 3 and it was the company's understanding that it was satisfactorily settled, Sunbridge spokeswoman Melissa Tommaso said. Officials at Sunbridge were unaware of any other complaints.

"Customer satisfaction is a very high concern and we take it very seriously," Tommaso said.

Patients and family who have issues with the company can file a written complaint, talk to Butts or his supervisor or call 1-800-399-2727.

All of the county's operating nursing homes are in compliance with state regulations according to the most recent surveys by The Office of Regulatory Services of the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

The office conducts surveys of the state's long-term care facilities on average every 12 months and when they receive complaints, said David Dunbar, director of DHR's Long-term Care Section.

Sunbridge was found to be in "substantial compliance" with state regulations as of June 16 according to ORS documents. The facility had been found out of compliance after a March 18 survey that turned up flaws in patient care such as the handling of patient financial accounts and complaints by patients of intrusions by staff that violated the patients' privacy.

The problem with the financial accounts dealt mostly with obtaining written authorization from patients before staff members could handle their money. The privacy complaints ranged from a nurse's failure to close a privacy curtain while checking a patient's feeding tube to failure by staff to knock on some patients' doors before entering their room.

The facility submitted a plan of correction and revisits on April 21 and June 5 by state agents found them to be in compliance again.

Two other Clayton County facilities, the Center for Long Term Care in Jonesboro and Athena Rehab of Clayton, were also found to be in compliance. CLC of Jonesboro was found to be out of compliance after a March 31 survey but completed a plan of correction and later visits confirmed they were back in compliance.

The faults found in the March 31 survey included medicine left beside a patient's bed without determining that they could safely self-medicate and failure to file an admission assessment of at least one patient.

The Beverly Healthcare facility in Jonesboro is closed as the company repairs water damage to the building, company spokeswoman Amy Knapp said. Before closing the facility, which had been required to submit a plan of correction after maggots were found in one patient's ear last year, was still out of compliance related to another complaint.

That complaint dealt with failure to administer drugs properly to the patients. The facility promised the ORS that it would be in compliance upon reopening.

It's not uncommon for various deficiencies to be found during the state's regular unannounced visits of facilities, Dunbar said. But the reports aren't the only way to determine if a facility is the right place for a loved one.

"That's only one piece of information," Dunbar said. "It's at one point in time. We're not there every day."

The trick is to look at the "scoop and severity" of the problems found in the facility. Too many problems of a severe nature should be considered.

Dunbar said the best approach is to go to the facility, look around and talk to the people living there. "Eyeballing" the facility is an approach Karen Boyles, manager of the Atlanta Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, also recommends.

The Birdsongs filed a complaint with Boyles' office last week and on Monday an investigator visited Michael Birdsong. Since the Ombudsman Program has not had an agent in the county for some time, Boyles said they could not comment on how many recent complaints they've received from the county.

Boyles did have more tips for people looking to have their relative admitted to a nursing home. Number one, ask for a copy of the most recent state survey and the number for the Ombudsman Program at the nursing home since both must be made available.

"And if a person is already in a nursing home I would visit them as often as I can," Boyles said.

Birdsong said she often has to depend on reports from her brother's roommate since she can't come to visit often. Boyles recommended taking turns with other relatives so that somebody visits the nursing home frequently.

The issue is always an emotional one, Boyles said, and she urges people to take their time in deciding.

"We're dealing with people's hearts rather than their minds," Boyles said.