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Health ratings at Wisconsin veterans homes slide again

The health care ratings at several Wisconsin state nursing homes for veterans have tumbled again in the wake of annual certification inspections that found multiple problems in facilities.

The latest decline for the state Department of Veterans Affairs facilities at King comes as the homes face a state audit and Gov. Scott Walker searches for a new department secretary.

The rating for King’s Olson Hall dropped to two stars, or below average, on the five-star scale used by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website created to allow consumers to compare quality among nursing homes. The rating was downgraded because of violations found in a September inspection.

Olson had a five-star rating from 2014 through the end of November despite a March 9 inspection citation for substandard care and placing residents in “immediate jeopardy” related to the death of a resident.

According to a CMS spokeswoman, a clerical error at the state Department of Health Services prevented the citation from lowering the ranking for months while Walker and WDVA secretary John Scocos touted King’s apparent top ratings in response to public criticism of care given to veterans at King.

Walker has since announced Scocos would resign effective Jan. 7.

“Governor Walker’s top concern is the care of our veterans,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said in a statement Wednesday. “The next secretary’s top priority will be to ensure our veterans are receiving the best services possible.”

The Democratic leader of the state Senate said Republicans who control state government have been dragging their feet on addressing problems at the veterans homes.

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“Rather than addressing issues with staff shortages, outdated medical equipment and crumbling infrastructure, Republicans relied on a flawed rating system to justify their inaction and ignore serious concerns from veterans and staff,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement.

All four King units for the first time had overall top ratings in October when the status of one of them, Stordock Hall, rose from four stars to five.

On Nov. 28, after the clerical error related to Olson Hall was discovered, Olson was reduced to four stars overall. It was given two stars in the category of health inspections, four stars for staffing, and five stars for quality measures.

The September certification inspection, which produced seven citations, contributed to the most recent reduction in Olson’s health rating, which fell to one star, with the overall rating dropping to two stars.

The ratings are based on three years of inspections, which means Olson’s status no longer takes into account its 2013 certification inspection that resulted in no citations, said WDVA spokeswoman Carla Vigue.

Another of the four King units also saw its ratings fall. MacArthur Hall dropped to four stars overall and four stars for health.

And Boland Hall, a state veterans home in Union Grove, dropped from four stars to three stars overall and from three stars to two for health.

Vigue said that despite the declines in the homes’ ratings in the health inspection category, they remained above average in categories of staffing and quality of care.

“Ensuring that veterans and those living at our homes receive the best care possible (is) something we take very seriously and work very hard at,” Vigue said. “As always, when issues do arise during these inspections, just as they do in any 24-hour skilled nursing facility, corrective action plans are put in place so that we may make improvements.”

WDVA was fined $76,900 in the March 9 citation, but is appealing.

By STEVEN VERBURG, Madison.com

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