COLUMBIA -- A South Carolina agency and the federal government have reached a settlement eight months after the Justice Department accused a state-run nursing home of providing inadequate care to residents, which led to injuries and, in some cases, death.
"This agreement establishes systems to ensure that nursing home residents receive adequate services to meet their needs," Grace Chung Becker, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, said in a Friday statement.
The state Department of Mental Health still disagrees with nearly every finding of a report that said patients "suffered preventable injuries, illnesses and deaths." But the settlement avoids costly litigation while ensuring high-quality care at C.M. Tucker, Jr. Nursing Care Center, agency attorney Mark Binkley said.
"The good news is, we were able to compromise and not get in a nasty fight about it," he said. "It still remains the staff at the facility are not fully over the insult they felt from the findings."
The settlement includes training, monitoring, reporting and evaluation requirements. It requires staff to pay close attention to patients' weight, food intake, pressure sores and pain management, and all deaths must be reported to the federal agency.
The agreement follows a scathing, 36-page report issued by the Justice Department last May on the Columbia facility, which houses 360 residents, including 70 veterans, in three buildings. In a 37-page response last summer, the state Department of Mental Health denied the findings case-by-case.
"The care provided to residents at Tucker Center bears no resemblance to the dismal picture painted," Binkley wrote. The cited cases "are in most cases factually incomplete, and many are incorrect."
The state agency was never given a reason for the investigation, conducted in fall 2006 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. A Justice Department spokesperson did not return a message Friday from The Associated Press.
Most Tucker residents are destitute, their care paid by Medicaid. The May report called the facility a "nursing home of last resort for hundreds of patients with long-term psychiatric illnesses."
Among the findings, it accused caregivers of not identifying or addressing patients' swallowing disorders. In one example, it said a 59-year-old man died four weeks after being diagnosed with a lung infection caused by inhaling food or liquid. The report said swallowing problems may have contributed, as the man lost 20 percent of his body weight over four months because he was unable to chew and ingest safely.
In its response, the state agency said the patient did not have a swallowing problem and died in February 2006, 10 days after being released from a local hospital -- where he lost the weight. It said the hospital diagnosis was pneumonia, not the infection cited in the report.
Other issues the agencies went back and forth on include accusations of not regularly turning and repositioning patients to avoid bed sores, not giving dying patients enough pain medication, improper nutrition, not doing enough to prevent falls that cause injury, inadequately investigating accusations of abuse, and unsanitary conditions.
The state agency noted other federal and state agencies that investigated the facility around the same time as Justice Department determined it complied with hundreds of standards, with few deficiencies, and awarded it a three-year accreditation.