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State provides ratings for assisted living centers

Posted July 28, 2009

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— North Carolina has rolled out a rating system for assisted living centers statewide, similar to the one used for years to gauge the services offered by day care centers.

The rating system, which ranges from zero to four stars, eliminates the guesswork for families about the quality of care for their loved ones, officials said.

Three-star rating Rating system gives families information

"Anything that puts more information out there for the public is great," said Megan Lamphere, the ratings administrator for the state Division of Health Service Regulation's Adult Care Licensure Section. "There's lots of care options out there for people, and that's why it's important to see if it's a good fit for you or your loved one."

State inspectors check benchmarks like nutrition, personal care, supervision and building safety to generate the ratings, which have been completed on 585 of the nearly 1,300 assisted living centers statewide, Lamphere said.

Dozens of centers have received three-star ratings – four stars is available only after completing three years with a clean record – while seven have zero stars, including Wake Forest Care Center in Wake County.

When the state found serious deficiencies in admissions, resident care and medication distribution at the Floyd McKissick Assisted Living Center in Warren County, another center that received zero stars in the system, inspectors pulled the license and moved the 30 residents out.

After that, someone stole furniture, food, appliances and a piano from the Norlina center. The facility's quiet halls now hold the items that have been recovered.

"I couldn't believe people would do that," said Edith Metcalf, a member of the new management team working to reopen the McKissick Center and win back some stars. "The building will be cleaned, floors finished and any repairs that need to be done will be done. We are definitely going to reopen."

A few miles away, Nancy Moore runs a much smaller assisted living center on her property that is denoted only by a makeshift sign  that also points out a grocery she operates.

State inspectors say the six residents who live at her center get excellent care.

"We are a big family," Moore said.

Moore boasts that her home's three-star, 100 percent rating is about the care inside and said people are often deceived by the outward appearance of other assisted living centers.

"It looks beautiful when they get there," she said, "but they really haven't talked to the administrator to see how the staff is working before they leave (their loved ones) there."

Lamphere agreed that what happens inside an assisted living center is more important that how it looks outside.

"Our rules focus on the care of the resident, not necessarily the aesthetics of a building," she said.

The state suspended admissions at the Wake Forest Care Center because of smoking-related fires and a high rate of medication mistakes, officials said.

"I have never felt like I needed to call the state," center resident Bette Fowlkes.

Fowlkes, a retired nurse, said she stopped staffers in the past from giving her the wrong medications, but she said new management at the facility is making needed changes for the better.

The center faces a September deadline to improve.

Fowlkes said she wants the state to recognize improvement and is worried that regulators might instead force out residents.

"I want them to do what they have to do and get out and let us get on with the rest of our lives," she said. "I plan to stay here until I go."

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