‘It’s just scary.’ Woman questions nursing home’s five-star rating after mother’s experience

WBTV Investigates: Inspection of Pineville nursing home found 126 pages of violations
Ruth Bird had to be taken out of Pineville Rehabilitation & Living Center in an ambulance after failing to get necessary medical care in the facility.
Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 5:51 PM EDT
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PINEVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) – When Kristin White was looking for a nursing home to help care for her mother, she used the federal government’s rating system to help find the best place.

White’s mother, Ruth Bird, needed help caring for herself after a cancer diagnosis and other medical problems.

The pair settled on Pineville Rehabilitation and Living Center. The nursing home has a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that tracks such facilities.

Putting her mother at a facility with a five-star rating, White said, gave her peace of mind.

But that quickly dissipated.

“People weren’t getting changed for eight hours at a time, sitting in soiled diapers; food wasn’t being served appropriately; missing medications…” White recounted.

“I mean, things that are serious. Like, things that will kill somebody.”

White said she had multiple meetings with the nursing home’s staff to address issues. But she still had concerns.

Ultimately, White’s concerns came to a head when her mother started seeming confused. Bird had an altered mental state for nearly a week. Eventually, she was taken to the hospital.

Medical records show Bird had an elevated white blood cell count, a sign of infection. The cause was a perforated bowel.

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None of her symptoms had received treatment by staff at Pineville Rehabilitation & Living Center.

“Of note, rounding notes from rehab indicate patient was diagnosed with urinary tract infection on 7/14, plan was for Fosfomycin however does not appear patient received this medication,” a note from her doctor at the hospital wrote.

White said doctors at the hospital did emergency surgery and found a perforated bowel, perforated colon and internal abscesses. She also had fluid built up in her belly.

Bird was on a ventilator for four days and now has a permanent colostomy bag.

“She had been complaining about, like, stomach pain and stuff and they just kept telling her ‘oh, well, you have gas or you’re constipated or whatever,’” White said of Bird’s treatment at the nursing home.

WBTV has sent multiple requests for comment to Pineville Rehabilitation and Living Center for this story but never received any acknowledgment of the requests.

The day before this story published, though, staff from the nursing home approached a WBTV crew shooting video for this story.

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The staff members—who did not identify themselves—would not answer questions but did demand they not be recorded by the WBTV crew.

After her mother was admitted to the hospital, White filed a complaint with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the state agency responsible for overseeing nursing homes and similar facilities.

A report of the inspection prompted by White’s complaint spans 126 pages and lists more than two dozen violations, including failing to treat a patient with an abnormally high white blood cell count, failure to provide shaving assistance and nail or skin care and failure to assess a resident having flashbacks and threatening to harm himself, among other things.

Inspection records show that the facility corrected each of the cited violations the following month.

But how did a facility with dozens of violations manage to keep a five-star rating?

WBTV asked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to explain its rating system.

“Each facility’s rating is based on the general level of quality provided to the individuals they serve. Individuals seeking care from a facility can assess the level of care provided by reviewing the inspection, staffing, and long-stay quality measure ratings and information,” a CMS spokesman said.

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The spokesman said the star rating system is meant to be just one data point, in addition to individual inspection reports and on-site visits to facilities.

White, whose mother’s medical complications prompted the inspection into Pineville Rehabilitation and Living Center, said choosing a nursing home and entrusting your loved one’s care to a staff is daunting.

“The scary thing is, people put their family members in a facility to help take care of them and make sure they get the level of care that they need,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t live 20 minutes down the road where they can just arbitrarily show up unannounced. Imagine what those families are going to think when they see this and they find out that their family members are in there. It’s scary.”