WRAL Investigates

N.C.'s retirement home ratings sometimes outdated, incomplete

Posted October 5, 2009 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2009 9:01 p.m. EDT

— During the past eight months, two patients walked away from Primrose Villa Retirement Community in Harnett County. One patient died.

As a result, the county ordered all patients removed. Yet the state’s online star system, which rates retirement homes, shows that Primrose has three stars, the highest rating possible right now.

The WRAL Investigates team asked state officials about the online star rating system, which launched this year, and how families can trust it when the information is sometimes outdated and incomplete.

'It was very serious'

The disappearance of Annie Langley, 62, in September marked the second incident in a year at Primrose, 431 Junny Road in Angier. Langley was later found safe after a search that lasted more than 24 hours and involved multiple agencies and hundreds of people.

Resident Carrie C. Evans wandered away in February. She fell into a ravine a few blocks from the retirement home and died of a severe head injury, according to an autopsy report. Police said there was no evidence of foul play.

After Langley's disappearance, Harnett County Department of Social Services ordered all residents to be removed from Primrose.

“It was very serious. This is not something that we do everyday. It was not something that we want to do everyday. It was something that we felt we had to do to protect these residents,” said Paul Polinski with Harnett County Social Services.

As of Monday, the North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation’s Web site showed that Primrose has three stars, the highest rating a home can achieve under the new system. Four stars can be awarded later if a home earns two consecutive 100-point-or-greater annual surveys.

“My reaction is that (the star system is) grossly inadequate and misleading,” said attorney Brent Adams, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Primrose on behalf of Evans’ daughter. “I believe it's a program that's got a long way to go in terms of being much assistance to the general public.”

Adams said he blames a lack of staffing and door alarms for Evans’ death.

“It's our contention that (Primrose) should not be licensed. It should not be allowed to operate,” he said.

Star system is 'very reliable'

Megan Lamphere, with the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services’ Adult Care Licensing, said the star rating system is only designed as a tool for families. It shows an annual inspection snapshot of the facility, and it can take weeks to update ratings after an investigation.

“I do feel like the star rating system is very reliable for the public,” Lamphere said.

When asked why the Web site cannot place a asterisk or “investigation pending” next to a facility’s name on the Web site, Lamphere said each company has a right to due process.

State law requires that star ratings be updated within 45 days after an investigation is complete. DHHS leaders say North Carolina’s star ratings are updated, on average, every 18 days.

The Web site includes a warning for people who are seeking retirement home information:

“For adult care homes and family care homes, months will typically pass between inspections and much could change for the better or worse in a facility between inspections. Therefore, it is advised that consumers visit the facility themselves before making such an important decision.”

Retirement homes using different names

Another obstacle in finding accurate information is that some retirement homes operate buildings under different names.

Primrose Villa has four buildings on site and each one is individually licensed and rated. Two of the four buildings are rated online, but the building where Evans lived was never rated because it was under investigation, state officials said. The fourth building hasn't housed residents in a while and also was not rated.

“There is nothing in the law that gives the state authority to tell operators of adult care homes what to name their homes,” said Jim Jones with the Department of Health & Human Services. “There are building codes and fire codes that enter into the issue of separate licenses and names, as well: 1) Each building may be subject to different codes based on its construction date. 2) The county fire marshal requires separate naming of the buildings to assure there is no confusion when firefighters respond to an emergency.”

WRAL News tried to contact Primrose for a comment. However, staff did not respond when a reporter showed up at the property. Owner Millie Shylon has not responded to requests for comment.

Although all the residents have been removed, Primrose still holds its licenses. Harnett County Social Services officials said they are working with Shylon to try and fix Primrose’s problems and possibly reopen the home at a later date.

For more information

Questions about star ratings can be e-mailed to DHSR.AdultCare.Star@lists.ncmail.net. For further assistance, contact the Star Rating Administrator at 919-855-3765, or toll-free at 1-800-662-7030.

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