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KFOX14 Investigates: Majority of El Paso nursing homes below standards

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Abuse and neglect are just a couple of the violations state inspectors have found at local nursing homes.

Watchdog groups rank Texas among the worst states for nursing home care.

KFOX14 Investigates dug through thousands of pages of records which give a glimpse into the state of nursing homes in our community.

KFOX14 Investigates found a majority fall far below acceptable state and federal standards and consistently fail inspections.

“The smell alone would knock you off your feet. I wouldn't treat my dog that way,” said "Daisy" when describing her grandmother's stay at a local nursing facility.

“The system is very broken,” said Daisy.

Daisy said her grandmother is the backbone of her family.

“The most happy generous person you could ever meet,” said Daisy.

Her grandmother is a tough El Paso woman. “She raised all of her kids and then all of their kids,” said Daisy.

But after a surgical procedure, her doctor ordered rehab at a local nursing home.

The family chose a facility that was close to their home.

“It was a terrible place to put her,” said Daisy.

Here are just a few of the things Daisy says her grandmother experienced during her stay:

“She said they wouldn't change her and they wouldn't move her around. They had left her socks on overnight so long that her feet have become deep, deep purple,” said Daisy.

“They lost her three times. When we were there they told me, ‘she just leaves.’ But how can she leave if she can't even walk?” said Daisy. “They would sometimes to forget to feed her.”

Daisy said she even had to order food to be delivered to the nursing home.

“I had to call every day, Genevieve, to make sure my grandmother was taken care of. To get the care she deserves,” said Daisy.

While visiting, Daisy took photos of residents left to sit alone for hours in the hallway.

“She was getting more and more sad as she went on,” said Daisy.

Daisy's grandmother was able to leave the nursing home, but she came forward to share her story with KFOX14 Investigates because of those who cannot speak for themselves.

“These other patients don't have anyone,” said Daisy.

Watchdog groups have consistently found that Texas ranks among the worst states in the country for nursing home care.

Families for Better Care ranked Texas 51 for nursing home care in its latest ratings from 2014. The rankings include all 50 states and Washington D.C.

In 2013, Texas was also ranked 51.

“It bad. It's really bad,” said Austin attorney J.T. Borah when describing the state of nursing homes in Texas. Borah has spent the last seven years suing nursing homes all over the country.

“We found out for the most part is that every nursing home cases is an understaffed in case. These intentional choices understaffed are made by the corporations that own the nursing homes,” said Borah.

His work has exposed several problems within the industry and specifically within Texas.

“The laws are written in such a way to really protect the nursing home owners,” explained Borah. “(The owners) are making money and they’re making a lot of it.”

Stephanie Townsend Allala is an elder law attorney and the Director for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Texas Chapter.

She spends a lot of time in and out of El Paso nursing homes with her clients.

“It's devastatingly sad,” said Townsend Allala describing the state of El Paso nursing homes. “There are certain places I wouldn't want anyone to be in.”

She said she's also worked with families who have lost loved ones in the care of nursing homes.

“I had one woman. Someone sat her up in a chair in the shower and left her unprotected, she fell face forward and she was dead by the next day,” said Townsend Allala.

KFOX14 Investigates dug through four years of state and federal records.

We looked at the 17 nursing homes in EL Paso County that receive major federal and state dollars from Medicare and Medicaid.

Here are just some of the problems inspectors documented:

-use of restraints

-failure to treat bedsores

-abuse

-neglect

- losing patients

-not changing catheters

-cockroach infestation

-fire hazards

-broken equipment

-unsanitary conditions

-broken air conditioning in El Paso summers

-failure to report claims of neglect or abuse

“It's total removal of their dignity,” said Daisy.

In the most recent inspections, KFOX14 Investigates found none passed their initial inspections.

Nine were found to be providing substandard care or care that put residents in immediate harm or jeopardy.

“People are dying from mistakes all the time, but do they have a loved one reporting it to the state?” said Townsend Allala.

In the last year in EL Paso, state inspectors found a patient died after not getting medical treatment for more than a day.

Another patient died due to not being on the correct breathing machine.

A patient left unattended fell down a flight of stairs, suffering a brain bleed and fractured jaw

Inspectors discovered an imposter was working as a licensed nurse

One nursing home even served under-cooked,unpasteurized eggs.

In fact, according to state inspectors, food quality is a frequent problem.

“There are a couple in this town that I do believe they would feed them dog food if they could, it’s sad the way they treat people,” said Townsend Allala.

KFOX14 Investigates found state inspectors gave out a total of 217 citations to local nursing homes at the time of last inspection.

“So they get popped, so what,” said Allala.

KFOX14 Investigates discovered state inspectors found facilities had the same problems year after year, inspection after inspection.

But as long as the problems were corrected, the nursing homes were allowed to operate, many times, without so much as a fine.

“The state of Texas doesn't have enthusiasm. They just don't put the money on defending the elderly and people with disabilities. It’s not a sexy issue,” said Townsend Allala.

KFOX14 Investigates chief investigative reporter, Genevieve Curtis asked, "How many strikes do they get? How many chances do they get?”

“That’s a really good question. I guess it's endless at this point,” said Townsend Allala.

A nursing home could potentially lose Medicaid and Medicare dollars.

“It’s a lot of empty threats,” said Townsend Allala.

Borah said the problem with Texas nursing homes comes down to two things: regulations and lawsuits.

“Nursing homes in Texas aren't required to have insurance,” said Borah.

Add to that, severe monetary caps on lawsuits in Texas have made it difficult to sue.

“Its so hard to sue a nursing home,” said Townsend Allala.

That leaves a situation where nursing homes face little regulation and minimal threat of lawsuits.

“The only thing to keep them in line, is their own (conscience) and that's a little scary,” said Borah.

When it comes to putting a loved one in the facility, Borah said, “Do whatever you can to not have to put them in a nursing home.”

Townsend Allala said there are some good nursing facilities in town.

“I know there are a few trying hard, valiantly, to raise standards,” she said.

So do your research and visit prior to selecting a nursing facility.

“Whats the smell test. What does it smell like,” said Allala.

Daisy said her grandmother is doing much better after leaving the nursing home, but she knows not everyone has that option.

“I think of that every day,” said Daisy.

And not everyone has someone to be their voice.

“Frankly those are the untold horror stories, the people with no one,” said Townsend Allala.

Medicare.Gov allows you to see recent inspection reports and recent ratings:

https://www.medicare.gov/NursingHomeCompare/search.html

If you have a loved one in a nursing home Townsend Allala suggests, you put a closed circuit camera in their room.

“It’s so simple and so inexpensive. You can see if they’re crying, see if they’re yelling for help. See if they are eating right,” said Townsend Allala.

If you’ve had an experience with a nursing home you’d like to share, call KFOX14 Investigates at 915-845-5369.

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