Janice Wycherley says she knew something was wrong with Peachtree Estates almost immediately. Wycherley had placed her mother in the assisted living facility in Dalton three years ago.
“The salesman said, ‘This is a great place. We are well staffed. We’ll do wonders for your mom. We have activities. We have great food.’ The sales pitch was just great,” Wycherley said. “Well, we took her there, and I pretty quickly said to myself, ‘This isn’t right.’ I don’t think I would have fed prisoners the food that they served. It was just pathetic. There were no activities. They just didn’t do what they said they would do.”
The state Department of Community Health’s Healthcare Facility Regulation Division (DCH) sent a certified letter in March of this year to Peachtree Estates giving the facility notice of intent to revoke its license to operate a personal care home. Conditions there “pose an imminent and serious threat to the physical and emotional health and safety” of the residents, DCH said. Division Chief Brian W. Looby wrote that a Feb. 17, 2012, “complaint” investigation uncovered 22 violations of rules and regulations for personal care homes. Assisted Living Concepts (ALC), the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based firm that runs the facility, has appealed that decision.
The ALC board fired former president and CEO Laurie Bebo in late May, reported Bloomberg Businessweek, and appointed retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles H. Roadman II as interim president and CEO.
In a visit this month to Peachtree Estates, Roadman said his goal is to “regain the trust” of residents of the facility and their families. He said he’d already approved beefing up the staff of the facility and was hiring independent agencies to review its operations.
But some family members say they heard similar promises in the past, promises that were not kept.
Wycherley said she understands their frustrations. Wycherley removed her mother from Peachtree Estates after just three months, a move she says triggered a complaint that the family had broken its contract, and she filed complaints with DCH.
Documents provided by Wycherley show that state officials substantiated nine of the 12 allegations she made, including that food did not meet guidelines, prescribed medications weren’t being properly dispensed, there was a lack of activities for residents and the staffing was inadequate.
“They cited them for those allegations,” she said. “That’s the laughable part.”
Why so long?
What happens to facilities that are cited by the DCH?
“Depending on the violations found, the facility may create a plan of correction to remediate those items within 30 days. If the violations are more serious, the facility may be subject to fines and/or a license revocation,” said Pamela A. Keene, DCH media and public relations manager.
Keene added that nursing homes that are found to have violated Medicaid and Medicare’s conditions of participation can also face sanctions from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Keene said the Healthcare Facility Regulation Division regularly inspects nursing homes, assisted living facilities and personal care homes to make sure they comply with state and federal rules. They also inspect after complaints are raised about a facility.
But some family members of Peachtree Estates residents are asking why it took so many complaints and so much time for the state to move to revoke the facility’s license.
State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, says that’s a valid question.
“The system is supposed to protect Georgians, in this case, the residents of these facilities and their families and community. Defining what that looks like is not as easy as we would like it to be,” he said. “I don’t have all the complaints in front of me, and I hesitate to criticize the work of others without that information. But whenever you have a government bureaucracy you have two extremes to fear. The first is that it’s so cumbersome and so slow to move that it is too late when it does take action. The other is that the heavy hand of the government is too quick and too brutal. That’s a tough balancing act.”
Does the General Assembly need to look into whether the state is striking the right balance in regulating assisted living facilities and nursing homes?
“I’ve already had some preliminary discussions about that with Sen. Renee Unterman, who is the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. She is a nurse and has a background in health care,” Bethel said.
He said he also plans to speak to officials at the DCH to see if there are ways to improve oversight of such facilities.
“The ideal we should strive for is to continuously improve what we do,” he said.
To find out more about a nursing home or assisted living facility or to file a complaint against one, go to the Georgia Department of Community Health website (dch.georgia.gov). You can also file a complaint at the website of the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman (www.georgiaombudsman.org).