A Humboldt Park, Ill., nursing home with a mostly Hispanic clientele is under investigation by at least two government agencies in response to complaints of staffing and supply shortages that some facility workers and relatives say have created unsanitary and unsafe conditions for elderly residents.
Workers at the Center Home for Hispanic Elderly say they have complained for months about low staffing and a shortage of adult diapers, gloves and other critical supplies. Some workers and family members of nursing home residents said residents who are incontinent often are not provided with diapers, especially at night.
"There are a lot of safety issues for the residents and for the employees," said certified nursing assistant Marilu Vazquez. "They think they are going to get away with it and I don't think it's right."
As of last week, Center Home received an overall rating of one star out of five from Medicare's Nursing Home Compare. That's down from two stars in July 2011 and the lowest rating possible. In Chicago, 23 of 91 rated facilities are rated one star. Statewide, 162 of 778 facilities got one star.
Nursing homes with one star are considered to have "quality much below average," according to the Nursing Home Compare website.
The situation at Center Home points to the challenges faced by Latinos searching for nursing homes that meet their social and cultural needs while also being safe and of high quality. The 156-bed facility is one of just three majority-Latino nursing homes in Illinois and has the largest percentage of Latino residents at 98 percent.
The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services launched an investigation into the nursing home Feb. 9 after receiving a complaint, said agency spokesman Matt Smith.
"Our ombudsman has been monitoring this facility on a regular basis ever since ... working with management to try and correct the problems," Smith said. "When it became clear that management was not working to correct these problems, our ombudsman notified the state Department of Public Health, which has jurisdiction and enforcement powers over nursing homes in the state."
On Tuesday the Illinois Department of Public Health dispatched surveyors to the nursing home, at 1401 N. California Ave.
Fran Meehan, an attorney for Center Home, said administrators keep the facility well stocked and adequately staffed. She said she was surprised to hear of complaints.
"They certainly keep enough supplies on hand," Meehan said Tuesday. "With adult diapers, the standard of care is to keep people as continent as possible, and so the effort is always to avoid the use of diapers until it becomes an unavoidable issue. Some people complain both ways; either you do it too soon or not soon enough. The staff uses good nursing judgment."
The state health department in late November cited the nursing home for six deficiencies, all considered "level two," meaning there was no harm to any patient, a spokeswoman said. The facility was back in compliance and in good standing with the state in less than three weeks.
Mary Beltran, of Chicago, said she had purchased adult diapers, soap and other personal supplies for her elderly mother because Center Home seemed to run out regularly. Yet she said she found her mother soiled with feces at least a half-dozen times since the older woman moved into the nursing home in October.
During one visit she discovered her mother lying in a bed without sheets, and her mother's belongings and personal-care supplies often went missing, Beltran said.
Then, three weeks ago, she arrived to find her mother, Ester Colon, 85, slumped over in a wheelchair and incoherent, her right knee swollen. Her mother had not used a wheelchair before, she said.
Colon was rushed to an emergency room where she was diagnosed with a serious urinary tract infection, among other problems, Beltran said. The infection entered Colon's bloodstream and she died of a pulmonary embolism a week later.
Beltran is awaiting autopsy results to learn if the infection played a role in her mother's death. But she said she believes the nursing home was negligent in the care they provided.
"I want this investigated because my mom was alert. She was stable to walk in her walker. She was verbal," an upset Beltran said this week. "To find her in this condition, to find out she had been this way for two days and I hadn't been contacted, to be the one to insist that we had to get her to the hospital, it's just upsetting."
An analysis by the Tribune and Hoy of public records found that time spent on nursing care at the facility has been declining.
The amount of self-reported registered-nurse care per resident per day has dropped from 0.82 hours in July 2011 to just 0.32 hours as of last week -- a half-hour less. The figure puts the facility among the lowest 1 percent nationwide for nursing care.
The total amount of care per resident per day fell from 2.71 hours in July to 2.19 hours in February, which puts it among the lowest 10 percent nationally.
The facility markets its Spanish-speaking staff and culturally appropriate food and activities, and relatives of residents said that emphasis is what attracts -- and keeps -- many residents at the nursing home.
Pedro Garriga, of Chicago, said he is not satisfied with conditions at the facility but has mixed feelings about finding another nursing home for his aunt, Basilia Garriga, 81, who has lived there more than 25 years.
"I really want to move her out, but she only knows Spanish," he said. "She knows the aides well, and she likes them. She knows the other patients as well. To move her out, it will be totally different surroundings."
On Thursday, a group of workers and community activists plans to deliver diapers, gloves and other supplies to facility administrators and press for better conditions at Central Home, including higher staffing levels.
"Nursing homes shouldn't have to be shamed into complying with the law," said Mike Truppa, communications director for SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana, the union that represents certified nursing assistants and housekeeping and dietary workers at the nursing home. "That seems to be what's happening in this case."
Deborah L. Shelton is a Tribune reporter, and Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is a reporter for Hoy.
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