Washington State Institutions

Washington State has an “interesting” concept in place with regards to the campus based communities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The term used in Washington State is Residential Habilitation Center (RHC).

What makes this term very confusing is that the RHC could be a Specialized Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF), an Intermediate Care Facility for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ICF/IDD) or both.

What makes the term RHC even more difficult is the fact that there are different rules and regulations for the SNF and the ICF/IDD so when one talks about the RHC which type of facility is one referring to?  Most people do not realize that when referring to the RHC they are actually referring to two different types of institutions.

what-is-an-rhc-2017

Nursing care is an area of concern for those who live in the ICF/IDD.  Even though the ICF/IDD is defined as a healthcare facility under the Social Security Act, Washington State does not define it that way.  The ICF/IDD also does not fit under the definition of “Long Term Care Facility” by Washington State Law but many consider it a long term care facility.  This ambiguity about what the ICF/IDD leaves the residents floundering in limbo without appropriate oversight for the care that is to be provided to the residents.

This issue is clearly seen when looking at who does the surveys and investigations in each type of facility.  The SNF has all registered nurses on these teams while the ICF/IDD rarely has a healthcare professional on the team.  Even if allegations are written concerning medical, nursing or other healthcare related problems, there is no healthcare professional on the investigation team to assess the situation.  This is a problem.

rhc-investigations-2016

There are several solutions that can be examined for this error.  The first solution would be to transfer oversight of the healthcare from the Department of Social and Health Services to the Department of Health.  Another solution would be to include registered nurses or other healthcare professionals to do the investigations and surveys.  At the minimum the healthcare professionals should be consulted for any allegation that pertains to healthcare.

 

Who are the investigators?

Concerns regarding medical and nursing neglect for residents residing in one of our state’s intermediate care facilities has led me to ask many more questions.  Questions that I should have asked long ago before harm and  permanent damage occurred and quality of life diminished.

But on the other hand, the fact that my allegations were dismissed as “unfounded” when I knew that neglect had occurred, prompted me to do my own investigation.

In Washington State we refer to the state operated institutions (both skilled nursing facilities (SNF) and intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities) as Residential Habilitation Centers or RHCs.  This presents several problems – the first one being that the SNF and ICF have different federal and state rules and regulations.  When both the SNF and ICF are combined in one campus, residents, community members and legislators fail to understand there are two distinct entities involved with different regulations to abide by.

There is also confusion regarding “long term care facility” and “healthcare facility” and which state agency should provide oversight and licensing.  In Washington State, the ICF is not included in the definition of “long term care facility” but does fit under the definition of “healthcare facility” by the services provided at the ICF.

This issue is particularly troubling when the state ensures that those who reside in the ICF receive all their healthcare needs on campus by state employed medical providers and nurses.

The Federal Regulations are clear with these issues but Washington State is confused.

Here is just one example of an issue that at this point is unsolvable given the system that Washington State has in place for oversight, surveys and investigations.

There are allegations of multiple medication errors over several years – medications documented as being administered but the pharmacy did not dispense enough medication to account for all the documented (by licenses nurses) administrations.  The pharmacy only dispensed 12-46% of the medication the nurses documented.  There was harm done by not administering the prescribed medication.  This was the practice at the ICF for 9 medications over 5 years time – many, many nurses signed off as administering these medications.  If one looked at the medication administration record you would assume that the client received ALL the medication as prescribed –

BUT – there is another story when trying to match the pharmacy records to the nursing administration records.  There is a MAJOR problem with the SYSTEM.

The ICF is licensed by DSHS.  That means that DSHS is the state agency providing oversight and investigations.  When the state investigator goes in to look at these allegations they see the medications were documented as given, meaning that the allegations are unfounded – no medication errors and the nurses provided the care.

There are clear violations of some state nursing standards (State Nurse Practice Act),

  • Willfully or repeatedly failing to make entries, altering entries, destroying entries, making incorrect or illegible entries and/or making false entries in employer or employee records or client records pertaining to the giving of medication, treatments, or other nursing care;
  • Willfully or repeatedly failing to administer medications and/or treatments in accordance with nursing standards

Failing to meet these standards could lead to disciplinary actions but DHSH does not consider these violations because the nurse documented administration and an error was not observed.

Unfortunately, in this situation, the State Department of Health and the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission are unable to do anything since they are not the licensing agency for the ICF and the error is not attributed to one identified nurse. The licensing agency needs to address these violations but DSHS (the licensing agency) does not see these medication errors as violations or errors.

So – how do we as advocates, healthcare providers, parents and legislators ensure that these standards are met?

As stated in the Code of Federal Regulations and the Social Security Act Section 1905 (d)  the “primary purpose of the ICF/IID is to furnish health or rehabilitative services to persons with Intellectual Disability or person with related conditions”.

Given that the ICF is a healthcare facility and its purpose is to furnish health services, we need to have healthcare professionals involved in the oversight, surveys and investigations of the healthcare provided – Washington State is not providing the needed oversight of healthcare to this vulnerable population.

investigations-by-rns

 

 

 

 

“Allegations Unfounded” ?

Medication error rates of 52-89% on several medications is neglect.

Failure to apply splint correctly 85% of the time is neglect.

Neglect occurs when a person, either through his/her action or inaction, deprives a vulnerable adult of the care necessary to maintain the vulnerable adult’s physical or mental health. Examples include not providing basic items such as food, water, clothing, a safe place to live, medicine, or health care.

Signs of neglect. (from Washington State Department of Social and Health Services)

The above examples of error rates are just a few that have occurred to my son while living at a state operated intermediate care facility for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ICF/IDD).  These issues and others have been reported to the administration and there have been several investigations done and the conclusions returned have been “allegations unfounded.”  I find these conclusions indefensible given the documents that have been submitted for review.

One such issue that went on for several weeks started when my son developed swelling and pain in his right ankle – the ankle that had very recently recovered from a serious sprain.   The lack of response from the medical and nursing team from the very beginning of this injury being reported to the day I removed the splint was met with frustration. It was a very simple and straightforward issue that could have had a very simple and straightforward response – it turned into something totally different.

It was not until I was totally frustrated that I even mentioned the word “NEGLECT” and that is when the superintendent “self-reported” to Residential Care Services  (RCS) and the first investigation was done.  That investigation took several months to complete and the allegations were deemed unfounded.  During those months I was not allowed to talk with anyone at the facility regarding the care since it “was under investigation.”

This is a link to the email exchanges that I had with the Health Care Coordinator (HCC – RN), the Nurse Manager (RN4), the Habilitation Plan Administrator (HPA) and the ICF/IDD Superintendent.

neglect-with-foot-splint-at-fircrest-june-2015

splint-on-wrong-foot-upside-downsplint-on-left-foot-should-have-been-on-right-foot

 

Since that time, I have requested to have the issues investigated again and have provided more documentation to RCS.  I have felt as if I have been the one being investigated because each conversation that I have had with an investigator has started with what they have heard about me – trying to find issues with what I have reported or how I have acted.

The only thing that they have been able to say is that the photos that I have provided are not “proof” because I could have photo-shopped them.  Their “proof” is the documents and charting of their nurses and staff (which now have been found to be in error when trying to reconcile medications dispensed to medications documented as administered).  They have not and will not consider email correspondence or medical charts from outside medical providers.  They have not enlisted healthcare professionals to review the allegations of medical and nursing neglect until this very last investigation involving almost countless medication errors.  Yet, I am the one who is looked at for wrong doing.

In doing the research for these allegations I have learned that the Department of Health and therefore the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission has no ability to investigate since they are not the licensing agency for the healthcare provided at the ICF/IDD.  Since the issues are systemic to the nursing care at the ICF/IDD it is up to the licensing agency to investigate.  Here is a link to the letter I received from the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission – Discipline Section, Health Services Consultant.

dshs-needs-to-look-again-at-nursing-neglect

So, it’s back to the drawing board of contacting DSHS and asking for explanations of why the allegations are unfounded.

All residents are at risk of harm until these and other issues are acknowledged and corrected.

 

Whistleblowing

Someone needs to speak up and I’ll keep speaking up until some of these serious issues of healthcare inequity are actually looked at and corrected

A recent blog posting entitled “The Journey of a Whistleblower: The Challenges, the Pains and the Price ” identifies some of the issues when one is faced with some ethical decisions.

While my son was a resident at a state operated intermediate care facility, I brought issues of concern to the administration and the medical director.  When no action was taken, I approached the Human Rights Committee of the facility.  They did not think that the issues of healthcare neglect and injury were a concern of theirs.  I then went to the advocacy group for the residents of the facility.  The president told me that their goal was only to keep the facility open – they had no say in assessing or measuring standards of care.

Obviously the healthcare and quality of life for the residents was not on the radar of any of these groups.

So, I keep trying to get people, organizations, legislators and agencies to see the serious concerns with medical and nursing care at some of these facilities.

If your loved one was dependent on the care provided in a healthcare facility, would it be important to know that all the prescribed medications and treatments were administered?  Or would it be okay for the nurses to only administer sometimes but document that all prescribed administrations were completed?

Would medication compliance rates of 11-46% be acceptable to you?  These rates are certainly not acceptable to me.

But it’s not just the low compliance rates I’m concerned about – it’s the years of falsified records across the board on a variety of medications by many nurses that is a huge concern.  Who is to know if the medications are really administered with so little oversight?

Who monitors medication administration – apparently no one and this is a major problem that needs immediate attention.

There is immediate jeopardy to all residents of the facility until the medication administration problems are examined and corrected. It is shameful on the part of our state agencies that these practices have been and still are accepted practice.

As a nurse myself, I know this practice is unethical and illegal to falsify these documents.  I question the level of integrity of the nurses working at this facility who routinely engage in this illegal activity.

This time has come to go outside the state organizations and inform others.  It is not just about keeping a facility open, it is about providing safe, quality care.  Care that is not happening at this time.

 

Healthcare at the Intermediate Care Facility

Who oversees the healthcare at the intermediate care facility for those with intellectual disabilities (ICF/ID)?  If you have a loved one who lives in an ICF/ID it may be worth looking into this to ensure that the healthcare actually does at least meet the minimum standard of care.

This was not the case in the ICF/ID that my son lived in.  I first started noticing problems the first year he lived there and I tried to work with the team and work within the system to improve the care, provide education and collaboration.  As system after system broke down and my son’s health grew worse I was making more and more trips to his home to provide the care and treatments that were supposed to have been provided by the nurses and team at the ICF/ID.

I knew the medications were not being applied but since the nurses were charting as given that was proof that the medications were being applied as prescribed. The fact that my son was not responding indicated that more potent medications were needed in addition to other medical treatments to control his inflammation.  These other treatments are not without risk and actually do increase his risk of cancer but we needed to get the inflammation under control and his immune system stabilized.

I was visiting at least 4 times a week and would apply his topical medications when I visited – knowing that he would at least be getting them when I was there.  They were actually supposed to be applied twice a day  and were charted as being applied twice a day but that is not what was happening.

After we moved our son to supported living and his care staff  applied the prescribed medications as ordered his inflammation quickly was controlled.  In about one month’s time the inflammation that had been extremely problematic for 3 1/2 years was now in total control.  His lab work was essentially normal after 3 1/2 years of having hematological problems. The medications actually did work – they were just not being administered as prescribed.

Now that I have the actual pharmacy and nursing records to review, I have found 9 medications that were falsely documented as being given for 1-3 years.  As a nurse I am totally appalled at the lack of quality and integrity that was accepted and not even questioned and do not understand how these dramatic errors can go unnoticed and uncorrected.

Below are charts of 5 of the medications showing the dates of administration, the amounts the pharmacy (at the ICF/ID) dispensed and the amounts that were charted as given. The compliance rates are unbelievable!  Who would accept these rates as meeting any type of standard of care? Why is this acceptable at the ICF/ID?

medication-1medication-2medication-3medication-4medication-5

It’s not just nursing that was the problem.  There was to be a 90-day medication review or reconciliation.  The purpose of this is to check each medication and ensure it is still needed and is indicated and the correct dose is prescribed.  Obviously the medication reviews were not done (but were signed off as being done)  since 3 of these medications were only needed for a short time (1 month or less) but remained in my son’s active  medication profile for up to 3 years dispensed and signed off as administered.   Who really knows what was given and what was just charted on as given.

How is one supposed to know if a medication is working or not when there is this type of record keeping?

There are so many problems that can be identified just with these medication errors.  This is at a state operated facility and so far the state investigation has stated that the allegations are unfounded based on the fact that the nurses charted the medications as given as ordered.

The state agency that oversees this facility is the Department of Social and Health Services.  Unfortunately, complaints to the Medical Quality Assurance, Nursing Quality Assurance, Department  of Health, Pharmacy Quality Assurance are unable to provide any guidance since they do not oversee any of the services at the ICF/ID.  It is up to DSHS and they do not see any problems.

Residential Care Services has opened up another investigation to review these issues and other allegations healthcare abuse and neglect.  My hope is that this time they will be able to see the problems and work on a plan for correction so that the residents do indeed have healthcare that at least meets the minimum community standard of care.  Currently that is not happening.