Illinois ranks third among states in the number of times federal officials suspended payments to a nursing home over serious deficiencies, according to federal data compiled by ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative news organization.
In the past three years, payments from Medicare and/or Medicaid were suspended 91 times at 78 homes, a step taken when deficiencies at a facility are so serious that regulators press for immediate improvements.
In two other categories — amount of average fine and number of serious deficiencies per home — the state landed near the middle of the pack nationally.
The Illinois Department of Public Health conducts surveys of nursing homes under contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Facilities are rated on an A to L scale, with L indicating the most serious deficiencies. In Illinois, D was the most common rating by far.
Scores of J, K and L signify "immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety." The J score is for an isolated case, K means the deficiency was part of a pattern, and L means its occurrence was widespread.
Among the state's 773 nursing homes, 144 were cited for at least one J, K or L deficiency in the last three years. The average number of serious deficiencies found per home was 0.44.
A total of $2.43 million in fines were levied against 199 nursing homes, with the average fine being $6,031. Penalties ranged from a $80,160 fine imposed on a Chicago nursing home with 53 deficiencies to a $650 fine imposed on a Peoria nursing home cited for 27 deficiencies.
The state health department declined a request for an interview but said in an email that it follows federal guidelines in determining the level of deficiency citations and penalties.
"Illinois has historically had one of the strongest surveying programs in the country, often conducting more surveys than other states to ensure facilities are following both state and federal regulations to protect the health and safety of residents," the agency said in a written statement.
Fairview Care Center of Joliet was one of three homes that tied for the greatest number of deficiencies in the state, 82. The facility's federal payments were suspended twice, and it was designated a special focus facility, which means it has a history of serious quality issues and is part of a special program to stimulate improvements in care.
Fred Frankel, an attorney for the home, said the rating doesn't reflect major changes made to address problems, including hiring a new facility administrator and other staffing changes, and rehabbing the facility "from top to bottom."
"All the deficiencies have been corrected," Frankel said. "The state has come in and verified those corrections. ... There were issues caused by turnover in staff, morale and functioning, and we have done our best to address it."
Last year, a resident was attacked with a metal container by another resident; she was hurt and had to get six staples and six stitches to the head. State auditors cited the facility for failing "to respond appropriately to resident's behavior in a timely manner, provide appropriate interventions and adequate supervision to prevent resident to resident physical abuse."
Frankel said administrators have "taken steps and actions to improve the facility so that things like this never occur again."
The other two facilities with 82 deficiencies were Amberwood Care Centre in Rockford and Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Willowbrook.
Chateau administrator Stephanie Mohr said the staff is committed to providing a caring home for residents. "The true measure of Chateau Center's operation is the satisfaction of our residents," she said in a statement.
Amberwood did not return calls seeking comment.
Of the 144 homes with serious deficiencies, 54 escaped any fine from Medicare or Medicaid. However, some of those facilities were fined by the state health department. In its statement, the health department said federal guidelines allow the history and severity of the deficiency to be taken into consideration when determining fines.
All American Nursing Home in Chicago had the highest number of serious deficiencies (11), according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data. But administrator Della Richardson disputed the data's accuracy, saying that the facility's deficiencies have been "routine, easily correctable matters."
"We are in full compliance with any and all state and federal requirements," she said. "We strive to and do provide the highest level of care and meet the needs of our residents."
Albany Care in Evanston is listed as having the second-highest number of serious deficiencies in the state (10), according to the data. But Ron Nunziato, an Albany Care consultant, said some of the deficiencies were overturned by an administrative law judge. According to the state health department, the number of serious deficiencies has since dropped to five.
Nunziato complained that the federal agency unfairly compares nursing homes "as if they are the same."
"Albany Care specializes in the care of people with chronic mental illnesses," he said. "You are comparing a facility with 30-, 40- and 50-year-old psychiatric patients with facilities that treat 70- and 80-year-old geriatric patients."
Two nursing homes in the state had no deficiencies — Alden Estates of Shorewood, in Will County, and Crawford Memorial Hospital LTC, in Robinson, in southeastern Illinois.
Tribune reporter Alex Richards contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun