Nursing home inspections have found dozens of safety violations and mistreatment of elderly New Mexico residents over the years. Albuquerque Journal reporter Marie Baca examined some of the reports about these incidents. She sat down with Public Health New Mexico’s May Ortega to talk about what she found.
BACA: The reports that are on file with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services contain some pretty graphic examples of these serious deficiencies for facilities that are here in New Mexico. In some cases, they said that things that these nursing homes did or did not do actually led to the death of residents or contributed to it.
There’s also a number of examples of residents not getting their medications on time. There are numerous examples of facilities that have not given what inspectors deem to be appropriate care to residents, leading to infections. Bed sores is a really big problem.
KUNM: Now under the Trump Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services relaxed regulations and shrunk fines. What is that going to mean for nursing homes here?
BACA: Advocates for the elderly say that relaxing existing regulations is going to jeopardize the health of nursing home residents even more than it might already be. If there are already regulations in place that are not being abided by, how is relaxing them going to make things better? That’s one side of the argument.
Then there’s the industry who often makes the claim that these regulations are actually preventing facilities from using more resources that might improve quality of care. And instead of being able to spend those resources on their residents, they’re forced to spend them on paperwork and other things that they need to do in order to abide by these regulations.
KUNM: What can consumers do to help tackle this problem in New Mexico?
BACA: There are a couple of things. If you’re interested in exploring inspection reports for nursing homes because you or someone you know is in a facility and you want to see what it's history’s been with inspectors, you can look at the same reports that I did online. You can go to the Nursing Home Compare tool that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has. If you just go to the main agency’s website you should be able to find it pretty easily.
One of the individuals who I spoke with for this story also pointed out the fact that viewing these reports online, using any of these tools, it’s no replacement for actually visiting a facility. Maybe go there during an off-hour time. Take a look at residents, see how they’re interacting with the staff. There’s really not going to be any sort of replacement for that type of on-the-ground observation.
And finally, if you see something that concerns you, lodge a complaint with the state. And there’s certain regulations on what the state needs to do once they receive a complaint.
KUNM: What have you heard from local lawmakers, the governor’s office and other political figures around the state?
BACA: It’s been interesting to see the response to this story on social media. My sense is that there could be some interest in the upcoming legislative session depending on how things go. A lot of it comes down to “What is the state’s financial situation?”
I would argue that if lawmakers are interested in addressing the needs of some of our most vulnerable populations, there are so many people in New Mexico that fall into that category, but nursing home residents are certainly one of them and many of them have very few avenues to advocate for themselves.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and the Con Alma Health Foundation.