Over half of Marion County-run nursing homes ranked average or below

American Village on E. 54th St. has had two deficiency-free surveys in the past two years.
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The Marion County agency providing healthcare to the poor is buying up nursing homes statewide in need of a fix, and banking millions in profit. But are they making the grade when it comes to senior care?

13 Investigates first uncovered struggling nursing homes in the county's hands back in 2007 when it owned just 18.

Now with triple growth, Eyewitness News takes a look to see how well the facilities are operating.

They're not the lap of luxury, but the government's equivalent of a five-star stay when it comes to top-rated nursing homes. Perhaps more surprising: they are owned by Marion County.

"They've had (American Village) had two deficiency-free surveys in the past two years and that is extremely difficult to do, so we've been very very proud of them and Community, too, " said Sheila Guenin, the Vice President of Long Term Care for Health and Hospital Corporation.

Community Nursing and American Village are just two of the 59 nursing homes purchased by Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County over the last decade.

Compare nursing homes here.

Nursing home revenues have jumped from $6 million in 2007 to a half-billion dollars for the county agency last year. HHC is the same agency that oversees Wishard and provides healthcare to those who can't afford it. In return, HHC gets higher medicaid reimbursement rates from the government for its services.

"Our 59 nursing homes earned $545 million in operating revenue," said Guenin.

But how does the county's nursing home ownership stack up when it comes to resident care?

13 Investigates took a look at government data that ranks nursing homes based on facility inspections, staffing and quality of care.

Of the 59 facilities owned by Health and Hospital, 27 were at or above average. But 32, or more than half, were ranked below average or much below average, meaning they are performing poorly.

"We take that very seriously. These are our nursing homes," Guenin told 13 Investigates.

One of the issues of concern is staffing.

Among Health and Hospital's five-star rated nursing homes, not even one received the highest marks for staffing.

Last week, Health and Hospital and American Senior Communities, the company hired to manage the nursing homes, were named in a wrongful death lawsuit after authorities in Fort Wayne ruled resident Betty Riley died at the hands of another Alzheimer's patient. The Riley family attorney says she was pushed down in a dining room with no staff present.

"All we knew is that they told us is she fell down; had a stroke and fell down," said Riley's son Mark.

In its most recent ranking, the government found the facility and staffing where Betty Riley died "much below average."

Guenin says her audit teams routinely review staff schedules at all of its facilities.

"Are residents really being taken care of by Health and Hospital of Marion County?" questioned 13 Investigates in regards to the staffing concerns. "Yes, we provide our facilities with a generous operating budget. That's one of the things I look at with our managing company," Guenin. "We provide for our facilities to be well staffed." she added.

Marion County-owned nursing homes also have therapists on site helping with day-to-day needs, but the government doesn't count them as nursing staff. Guenin says they make a difference noting one of the biggest areas of improvement at its facilities statewide is "quality of care."

Health and Hospital says it has no plans to buy any more nursing homes. They've got work to do on the ones they already own and that includes monitoring, training and making sure corrective action plans are followed.

In 2007, Health and Hospital bought the Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation facility. At the time it was deemed one of the worst nursing homes in the nation. The most recent ranking for Valparaiso shows some slight improvement. The facility is ranked below average overall, but has five stars when it comes to quality care.

Guenin, who's been in the business for 40 years, says the best advice for anyone looking for a nursing facility is to not only check out the rankings, but to visit and talk with the residents and their families.

HHC says it counted losses of $19 million in overruns in operational  costs.

See how Marion County's nursing homes rank here.