Four nursing homes in Maine have received the lowest possible score for staffing levels, according to an analysis of federal data by Kaiser Health News. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP

Four nursing homes in Maine have received the lowest possible score for staffing levels, according to an analysis of federal data by Kaiser Health News.

The findings have come after the federal government changed the way that it evaluates staffing. While the Kaiser Health News analysis suggests that some nursing homes may have inflated staffing levels in the past, nursing homes in Maine deny that’s the case. Senior advocates, meanwhile, say the rankings fail to show a deeper problem afoot with nursing homes.

The four nursing homes that received the lowest rank are The Commons at Tall Pines in Belfast; Odd Fellows and Rebekah’s Home in Auburn; the Fryeburg Health Care Center; and Bridgton Health Care Center. Their ratios ranged from 14 to 18 residents-per-nurse on the best staffed days, and 23 to 32 residents-per-nurse on worst staffed days.

“I’d really like to know how they’re calculating those statistics,” David Hicks, the administrator of Bridgton Health Care Center, said.

He was surprised to hear about his facility’s low ranking.

“Normally my staffing ratios are much higher than the 1-to-5, 1-to-10, and 1-to-15 that’s required as minimums by the state,” he said.

Those ratios are for the day, evening and overnight shifts. Before this new data, Bridgton received four out of five stars for staffing. Hicks said there must be an error in the way the data was reported or in the way it was used.

Rick Erb of the Maine Health Care Association agrees.

“There have been big changes in the reporting methodology,” Erb said.

Until recently, nursing homes would self-report staffing levels during annual inspections. But now Medicare collects daily payroll data to calculate them. An analysis by Kaiser Health News concluded that many nursing homes likely exaggerated their numbers in the past. But Erb says that doesn’t appear to be a problem in Maine.

“We’re number one in New England for nursing level of staff and in the top-five nationally. So, it’s not a big change for us,” he said.

The new reporting does mark a change for Odd Fellows and Rebekah’s Home in Auburn, which previously received an “above average” rank for staffing. The Fryeburg Health Care Center moved down a notch from its previous “below average” rank. The Commons at Tall Pines in Belfast, meanwhile, received the lowest possible rank under both the old and new system. No one from those homes was available for comment.

On the flip side, most of Maine’s nearly 100 nursing homes scored well for staffing. While that’s a good thing, Jess Maurer executive director of the Maine Council on Aging said, it hides an underlying problem.

“The real problem on the ground is by doing that, by meeting or exceeding those levels, they’re taking beds offline.”

Maurer says nursing homes are struggling to fill positions due to a statewide labor shortage for nurses and direct care workers. So they limit their beds to meet requirements, and now there’s a long waitlist for care.

“We have so few nursing homes in Maine, so you’re already looking at usually having a loved one live far away from the rest of the family, and now it’s even farther away because of these shortages,” Maurer said.

Maurer said a new state law may help ease the burden. It bumps direct workers’ pay up 10 percent while a rate study is conducted. But Maurer said the state also needs to find ways to build a career pipeline, so that workers are attracted to the positions and have room to advance.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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