MIKE MASTERSON: Inadequate care

Scabies scandal

Posted: January 28, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

I suspect you’ve heard about that appalling scabies infestation that erupted in a Camden nursing home last month. The scourge of mites burrowed beneath the skin of every patient and some facility employees before spreading into the community because of inaction and a failure to quickly contain the outbreak.

That was the headline the other day in a story by reporter Hunter Field about the shameful outbreak kept under wraps from officials.

Records show those in charge at Longmeadow Nursing Care instructed staff not to create a paper trail showing that patients were being treated for scabies.

Inspectors said afflicted residents were not placed in isolation to prevent the highly contagious condition from spreading. And spread did it ever as employees caught scabies from patients and carried the mites home to their families.

Scabies mites tunnel beneath a person’s skin to create angry red bumps that itch intensely.

It wasn’t as if this infestation was the first for Longmeadow, the news account says. In July regulators had issued a citation when the home failed to responsibly handle a far more limited scabies infestation that affected several patients. However, the home failed to document that outbreak.

One of the most damning aspects of the story for me was the nurse who explained to regulators that higher-ups told the staff to keep quiet about the infestation.

“They didn’t want us to document the residents had scabies on any of the paperwork, but that’s what we were treating them for,” the nurse is quoted saying in an inspection report.

In such an atmosphere of denial, the scabies spread to every patient. Following a December inspection, the Office of Long Term Care rated these infractions an “L,” the most severe in a 12-letter rating system, saying, “the failed practices resulted in Immediate Jeopardy, which caused or could have caused serious harm, for all 28 residents who resided in the facility.”

What I found significant is that most scabies outbreaks in nursing homes are caught and dealt with early. But in this instance, the infected weren’t properly isolated, and neither special cleaning techniques nor protective equipment were used. Field quoted official reports that said Longmeadow “failed to follow almost every scabies mitigation protocol.”

I wonder when, if ever, those who own and manage these badly needed homes will begin to place the welfare and care of their patients as their first priority.

Yes, I understand they need to turn profits, but the lucrative industry also needs to reach deep inside its corporate soul and accept the high level of moral and humane accountability resting squarely on their shoulders.

In that respect, the Longmeadow outbreak is symptomatic of the inadequacies as well as a microcosm of the much larger and more serious problem of proper nursing home staffing and care in Arkansas and nationally. A 2012 Pro Publica study showed accident hazards, inadequate infection control, and failing to provide the highest level of necessary care for residents’ well-being as the three most cited deficiencies in nursing homes. I seriously doubt any of that has changed.

Of course, I asked Martha Deaver of Conway, who heads the Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents, for her thoughts on the Long-meadow disgrace. She said she’d been initially contacted about the outbreak by those needing assistance.

As with so many cases she’s dealt with throughout her 25 years of advocacy, Deaver said she considers it a blessing that family members, employees and nursing home residents trust her enough to reach out when abuse and neglect is occurring.

“That is what happened at Long-meadow,” she told me. “Tragically, the suffering of the residents, employees and their children would have continued. Like many in Arkansas, this nursing home has a history on public record of abusing and neglecting nursing home residents.” And this kind of mistreatment needs stronger laws and serious penalties.

She said repercussions today for abusing and neglecting our most frail and vulnerable citizens “amount to nothing other than a minimal fine, which nursing homes factor into the cost of doing business. Then they must write a plan of correction. There’s no other accountability.”

Deaver also tied this latest scandal to the ballot measure to our state’s Constitution that would cap the amount of personal injury cases, including for nursing home residents, at $500,000.

The nursing home industry despises being held accountable in a court of law, she added. “Our Seventh Amendment right is the only way to hold them accountable. This is why the nursing home industry has put millions of dollars into making sure the state Constitutional Amendment SJR8 passes.

“This amendment would take away our Seventh Amendment right for nursing home residents to hold the home’s owners fully financially accountable when they are harmed or killed from negligence, abuse and neglect. Tragically, if this amendment passes in November, I believe it will amount to a death sentence for our most frail and vulnerable.”

—–––––❖–––––—

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@ arkansasonline.com .