Against the backdrop of a labor-management dispute, the D.C. State Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA) held a hearing last week on allegedly unsanitary conditions and patient neglect at the 355-bed Wisconsin Avenue Nursing Home.
THE SHPDA, which could revoke or put conditions on the certificate of need the nursing home is required to have, is expected to rule on the case within three weeks.
"When more attention is being paid to balance sheets and executive salaries than to roach infestation and broken medical equipment, our health regulators must react," said Christopher C. Quarles III, executive director of the Food and Allied Service Trades Council of Metropolitan Washington (FAST). FAST requested the hearing and presented testimony by nurses aides and members of the housekeeping staff about the home's alleged deficiencies.
Last October, nonprofessional employes of the home, at 3333 Wisconsin Ave. NW, voted to have FAST's local 400 serve as their bargaining representative. But Beverly Enterprises, the California-based firm that owns the Wisconsin Avenue Nursing Home and about 300 others, has disputed the election.
On Feb. 26, the union picketed the home -- an action that management contends violates NLRB rules.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will make a final ruling by the end of April as to whether to certify the employes' election. The NLRB regional director has recommended to the national board that Beverly Enterpises' objections to the election not be considered in the final ruling. Officials of the NLRB said the firm's complaint about the picketing is being investigated.
"This is union harassment," charged Larry B. Cornish, director of legal affairs for Beverly Enterpirses. "It's a device to force Wisconsin Avenue Nursing Home to drop its charges against the union."
Cornish did not reply to the specific charges made during the hearing, saying he wanted more time to study the testimony.
Union officials downplayed the labor disputes, but contended that inadequate staffing, poor pay and long hours are responsible for many of the problems at the home.
"This is a health issue," said Quarles. "Staff desire to improve the quality of patient care is the major reason for local union involvement."
Quarles made the following charges at the hearing:
Nurses aides have been directed to give medication to patients and medication has been left unattended in patients' rooms in violation of D.C. regulations;
Equipment, such as blood pressure cuffs, is often broken and unavailable;
Patients are not visited by doctors as often as required by D.C. regulations;
The home is infested by roaches, and the smell of urine is pervasive;
Because of inadequate staffing and supplies, "Patients are often left lying or sitting in their own human waste for hours." "
The charges were reiterated in testimony by employes of the home and in an affidavit from Emily Marvil, a Washington resident who recently removed her 93-year-old grandmother from the home because of "shameful and inexcusable conditions."
Marvil says her grandmother was given pills by a nurses aide who could not tell her what the medication was; often had to wait as long as half an hour for someone to help her get to a bathroom, and was generally neglected by the staff.
However, Patricia McShay, chief of the health care division of the D.C. Office of Licensing and Certification, said she made an unannounced, three-hour visit to the home March 9 and found no evidence to support the charges.
"I didn't observe medication on patients' bedstands and I didn't find any record of superivisors' ordering nurses aides to dispense medication," testified McShay. "There were no ordors. It was clean, and I say no roaches in patients' rooms."
However, Pat Van Buren, a D.C. Department of Environmental Services official, said she found roaches in the kitchen and other deficiencies, such as meat left out of the refrigerator. Van Buren said the facility could be given time to correct these problems.
Also testifying in support of the union's position were Sally Cory, coconvener of the D.C. chapter of the Gray Panthers and Clare Feinson of the D.C. Health Coalition. Feinson testified that Beverly Enterprises has a reputation as "the slumlord of nursing homes," but said she did not know whether the charges against the Wisconsin Avenue Nursing Home were true.
"Our major concern is that when such allegations are made, the public has a fundamental right to see a thorough investigation," Feinson said.
The SHPDA has no inspectors, and the three members of the hearing panel said they did not plan to visit the facility themselves, but would base their decision on the hearing record. Beverly Enterprises has until the close of business today to enter its answers to the union's charges into that record.