Health & Fitness

Ceiling collapse, no hot water: Despite new owner, KC-area nursing homes struggle

New York-based Centers Health Care took over a trio of Kansas City-area nursing homes in June, with company executives promising to turn around some of the lowest-rated facilities in Kansas and Missouri.

After about eight months under the new management, it looks like it’s going to take more time.

Early this month, a section of the ceiling collapsed at the Kansas City Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care.

Then on Jan. 21 the Overland Park Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care lost hot water for more than a day.

State inspections continue to turn up problems at the Overland Park Center. Both facilities were formerly known as Serenity Rehabilitation and Nursing, when they were owned by Serenity Care Group.

The facilities still rank poorly in the Nursing Home Compare ratings, updated in December by the federal agency that runs Medicare.

The report bumped up the Overland Park Center, 5211 W. 103rd St., from one star to two, out of a possible five. But it left the Kansas City Center, 12942 Wornall Road, at one star. And it downgraded the third facility Centers Health Care took over from Serenity — Butler Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Bates County — from three stars to two.

The star ratings reflect problems the company inherited, Jeffrey Jacomowitz, a spokesman for Centers Health Care, said in an emailed statement.

“When Centers Health Care took (over) the former Serenity facilities last year, the company promised to bring longevity and stability to the Kansas City region, and to offer the company’s best practices to the residents and the families at Kansas City Center, Overland Park Center and Butler Center,” the statement said. “This is exactly what’s been happening.”

The company has evaluated the needs of each facility, including health care, the statement said. It has hired and trained nursing leaders and staff and assessed what technology upgrades and room renovations are necessary. A corporate team has been established locally and is making weekly visits to the three facilities.

The statement noted that the federal star ratings depend in part on health inspection data that is several years old, from before Centers took over.

That’s true, but inspection reports from the Centers era show continuing problems at the Overland Park facility, and there have also been recent troubles with infrastructure there and at the Kansas City Center.

According to the Kansas City Fire Department, a broken sprinkler head caused “a small portion” of the ceiling at the Kansas City Center to fall down on the morning of Jan. 3.

“The building occupants responded, and the sprinkler company arrived and made all repairs The sprinkler system was placed back in service,” the department said in a statement released by records custodian Sheryll Wilson. “Fire companies responded and did provide water removal from the inside of the building.”

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Overland Park Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care, 5211 W 103rd St., in Overland Park. Tammy Ljungblad tljungblad@kcstar.com

The morning after the hot water went out at the Overland Park Center, Jacomowitz said in an email that a circulator had broken but would be repaired soon.

“In order to monitor the temperature of the water, staff has been putting water in the microwave so the residents who want to bathe, wash their face, drink tea, etc., can do so in the meantime,” Jacomowitz said.

No state inspections for the Kansas City facility have been reported publicly since Centers took over.

But the facility in Overland Park has had at least five inspections since then, each in response to a complaint. The inspection findings include unsanitary food storing and handling, failure to develop care plans and discuss them with residents and families, failure to prevent pressure sores and failure to properly inventory and track residents’ property.

An inspection in September determined that a resident gave an envelope with $2,400 in cash to staff to put in the facility’s safe. When the resident asked for some of the money about a month later, staff members couldn’t initially find it. It turned out it had never actually been placed in the safe. Instead, staff first put it in a narcotics lock box on the medication cart and then later in an administrative filing cabinet.

The inspection report does not indicate that any money was missing.

Jacomowitz said the deficiencies have all been corrected and the facility takes seriously the duty to protect residents’ property.

“Every allegation of any misappropriation or financial exploitation is thoroughly investigated at the facility level and brought to the attention of the (state) department of health and local authorities as necessary,” Jacomowitz said.

The Centers facilities aren’t the only ones in the area struggling to move up the Medicare rankings. The federal system grades nursing homes on a curve. The top 10 percent of facilities in each state get five stars, the bottom 20 percent get one star and those in between get two, three or four.

There are 20 1-star nursing homes within 25 miles of Kansas City in the latest ratings, compared to 13 5-star homes. The 1-star list includes Hidden Lake Care Center, a Raytown facility that remains the only one in the metro area on a federal watch list for persistently poor inspections.

But Centers had a reputation on the East Coast for being able to turn around ailing facilities.

Cindy Luxem, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Care Association, a nursing home advocacy group, said she believes the company is trying to do that here too.

“I believe the Centers folks, that they’ve come into Kansas with the best intentions,” Luxem said.

Luxem said it’s an entirely different situation than Skyline Healthcare, a family-run company headquartered above a New Jersey pizza place that took over dozens of nursing homes in Kansas and other states in quick succession, then fell behind on bills almost immediately.

The state of Kansas had to take over 15 Skyline homes last year to keep them open and has yet to approve new operators for them.

The three facilities in Kansas and Missouri are Centers Health Care’s first foray into the Midwest, but it has operated homes in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island since it was founded in 2010, and Luxem said it appears to have adequate resources.

“I have checked into Centers a little bit more — now that I’ve been burnt by a couple of these companies — and they are actually legitimate,” Luxem said. “They’re not operating above a pizza parlor.”

But Luxem said Kansas is traditionally more strict on its inspections than some East Coast states, and she wasn’t sure Centers was prepared for that. They need to take care of their buildings, she said, because things like the ceiling collapse reflect poorly on the whole nursing home industry.

“We’re working with them pretty much on a weekly basis to see what they need to get to be a good provider,” Luxem said.

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.
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