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Information on consumer list out of date

By Ed Brock

The new administrator at the Center for Long Term Care in Jonesboro has a simple response for the facility's presence on a consumer affairs list of questionable nursing homes.

"That data is not current," said Cheryl Coleman, who has been at the CLC Jonesboro facility on Arrowhead Boulevard since November. "It's not reflective of what we have going on now."

According to a preface of the information on Consumer Union's nursing home watch list the data is based on state surveys of long-term care facilities that were done between January 1996 and April 2001. The list also included Sunbridge Care and Rehabilitation for Riverdale on Upper Riverdale Road and Beverly Healthcare of Jonesboro on Ga. Highway 138, two other Clayton County facilities that have been the focus of lawsuits and investigations in the past.

Agents with the State Health Care Fraud Control Unit, which operates under the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, investigated the Sunbridge facility in May 2002 regarding a complaint about patient care. Howard Waldrop of Hampton also sued the nursing home in connection with the death of his mother Barbara Eckert on March 4 of that year.

Eckert was a patient at the facility on Upper Riverdale Road who apparently went outside to smoke sometime in the early morning hours of that day in temperatures as low as 21 degrees and could not get back into the facility, according to Waldrop's complaint. When Eckert was found at 7 a.m. her body temperature had dropped to around 89 degrees, while normal body temperature is 98.6, and her body was cool to the touch.

Previously Maxwell asserted that the staff at the nursing home "piled blankets on (Eckert) and waited for her body temperature to get up to 94 degrees" before taking her to the hospital where she later died.

Waldrop's case was settled seven months ago, said Waldrop's attorney E. Gilmore Maxwell.

"It was settled on terms agreeable to both parties," was all Maxwell would specify about the agreement.

Again, the lawsuits and other violations listed in the surveys on the Consumer Reports are outdated, Sunbridge officials say.

"Our facility is under new leadership as of September 2002," Kendra Ferrero, Georgia regional manger for Sunbridge, said in a statement. "The Consumer Union's Report is an aggregate of three years of survey results and the facility has shown substantial improvement year over year as evidenced by no substandard quality of care deficiencies and a marked reduction in the scope and severity of deficiencies for that same period. While the (report) is a good tool for reviewing a nursing home's historical survey performance, it does not address specific deficiencies or the scope and severity of those deficiencies. We recommend that families tour their nursing homes of choice and determine whether they can meet the specific needs of their loved ones."

Sunbridge is in "substantial compliance" with federal and state regulations, Ferrero added.

The Beverly Healthcare facility is currently closed as the company repairs water damage to the building, company spokeswoman Amy Knapp said.

"We worked with other area facilities to move the residents while the work is being done," Knapp said.

In September the facility was fined $900 a day until they fixed several problems with flies that peaked when state investigators received an anonymous tip amount finding maggots in a 93-year-old female patient's ear. The facility later submitted a plan to the state's Office of Regulatory Services for fixing the problem.

Knapp said the Consumer Union report is based on a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services program that was intended to be used as a way to compare the performance of various nursing homes. She added that the data in the reports doesn't always consider current performance and, like Ferrero, urged consumers to make their own inspections.

"Our thought is that a visit to the nursing home is one of the best ways to determine if that home is the best place for a loved one," Knapp said.

A copy of the Consumer Union list can be found at www.consumerreports.org.