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Nursing Home in Inglewood Faces Funding Cutoff

Times Staff Writer

An Inglewood nursing home accused of numerous health violations is expected to lose government insurance payments, Los Angeles County officials said Thursday.

They said officials of the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration in San Francisco indicated in conversations this week that they will approve the county’s recommendation to cut off Medi-Cal and Medicare payments to St. Erne Sanitarium, a 276-bed facility that serves primarily low-income psychiatric and medical patients.

Ron Marsis, a certification specialist in the federal agency in San Francisco, said a decision on the recommendation is expected today.

County officials said a detailed inspection over several days last month at St. Erne found patients with untreated bedsores lying in their own wastes, repeated errors by employees in administering medication and failure to monitor and record the condition of patients.

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Inspectors from the county’s Health Facilities Division issued 10 citations, described 90 violations in a 66-page report and proposed that the federal agency levy a fine of about $25,000.

Lance Comfort, secretary-treasurer of the corporation that runs the nursing home, led a reporter on a tour of the facility Thursday and said many improvements had been made since the inspections in early August. He said county inspectors had overstated the extent of the problems and that nursing home officials have appealed the county recommendation. The federal officials will consider the appeal when they decide whether to cut off the insurance payments.

Some Problems Corrected

Stuart Chasen, a supervisor for the county division, acknowledged in an interview that serious problems noted by inspectors--such as the presence of cockroaches throughout the building--had been corrected. But he said the county sought the insurance-payment cutoff because “the patients had been jeopardized. Some of these violations had a direct impact on the health of the patients.”

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Chasen and other officials said they received an increasing number of serious complaints this year about conditions at St. Erne from relatives of patients and from an undisclosed public agency.

Founded in the 1920s, the nursing home was leased to St. Erne Hospital Corp. in 1981 by longtime owner Jeff Stern, who still owns the building, Comfort said. The nursing home, at 507 W. Regent St., is divided into an standard nursing care area and a locked section for patients with psychiatric disorders. (The name of the institution is derived from the name Stern. There is no religious saint named Erne, according to A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints, and the facility has no religious affiliation.)

About 70% of the 267 patients at St. Erne receive government insurance funding, Comfort said. If federal officials decide to suspend Medi-Cal and Medicare payments--a cutoff that must last 60 days before a facility can reapply for funding--St. Erne’s would probably have to end treatment to all patients except for the small number who pay themselves or use other insurance, Comfort said.

Facilities have 30 days to move affected patients before a suspension of insurance payments takes effect, officials said.

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Comfort said he hopes that St. Erne’s request for another inspection will be granted before the government cuts off money.

“We agree that there were problems,” Comfort said as he walked the halls of the home, which is near downtown Inglewood. “But the report makes it sound like this is an awful place, and I think you can see that’s not true. We feel the county exaggerated in some areas.”

Employees mopped floors and patients wandered hallways or lay in their beds as Comfort pointed out newly tiled floors and showed a voucher for $5,300 worth of new linen to replace “threadbare” bedclothes cited by the county. Comfort said administrators believe that a disgruntled employee was responsible for many of the complaints.

While Comfort admitted that there was a basis for the citations, he disputed the extent of the problems. He said administrators have been holding training sessions with staff to improve patient care.

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The inspection report paints a picture of employees failing to monitor patients, who as a result developed untreated bedsores or lacerations from restraints, had to lie in their own waste or fell and injured themselves.

Inspectors also said employees made mistakes in dispensing medication to patients in 37% of the cases observed. They said medications were given late, in improper doses or--when a medication was not available--not at all.

Other violations described in the report included:

- Odors of urine and excrement permeating hallways.

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- Dirty kitchen and bathroom areas.

- Failure to ensure that patients received adequate nutrition.

- Insufficient or illegible records.


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