February 18, 2013

Center’s inquiries prompt state policy changes

A FRAIL SYSTEM

About this series:

Families’ abilities to hold potentially negligent nursing facilities accountable have been diminished by a recent change in state law that bars records of abuse and neglect from use in the courts, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found. The Center’s investigation also shows that some long-term care facilities are failing to report deaths and injuries, as required by law.

This project, A Frail System, explores those issues and offers families help in identifying which of the state’s nursing homes have been sued or cited for major problems.

In response to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s inquiries into an accident involving an 88-year-old woman at a Milwaukee nursing home, the state Department of Health Services launched an internal review, which concluded that state officials did not properly respond.

As a result, the department says it has reviewed its intake procedures and made changes to ensure that complaints against nursing homes are triaged appropriately and investigated in a timely fashion.

“Complaint and triage assignments are now completed by our management staff,” said health department spokeswoman Claire Smith, adding that these officials are trained in obtaining detailed information from the person filing the complaint.

The accident involved Mary Pietrowski, who fell and broke her hip at Sunrise Care Center in January 2010. The facility did not report the incident to state officials, and the state did not launch an investigation for more than seven months, even though Pietrowski’s son said he filed a complaint within a month of her fall.

The health department review found that the complaint against Sunrise was “inappropriately triaged by intake staff,” causing a delay in the state investigation, Smith said.

She said the department’s goal is to investigate serious complaints filed against nursing homes within 10 days of receipt, and non-serious allegations within 60 days of receipt. Similar timelines are set for assisted care facilities.

Extendicare, the Ontario-based company that owns Sunrise Care Center, declined to comment on Pietrowski’s fall, citing patient and staff privacy concerns.