Riverside Health and Rehab

Riverside Health and Rehab in North Charleston was one of six South Carolina nursing homes that were named on a congressional list of poor-performing facilities. This is information that normally isn't provided to the public. Brad Nettles/Staff

Six nursing homes in South Carolina were identified as consistently poor-performing in a congressional list previously kept secret by a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The list, current as of April, was released to the Senate Special Committee on Aging at the beginning of June after a bipartisan inquiry from Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican.

"It is outrageous that we continue to hear stories of abuse and neglect in nursing homes that do not live up to these high standards,” Casey said in a news release. “Choosing a nursing home is a difficult and often painful decision to make. Individuals and families deserve to have all the information available to choose the facility that is right for them.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal office in charge of administering Medicare and Medicaid, keeps a list of nursing homes that are designated as Special Focus Facilities. This designation increases the frequency that a nursing home must be inspected and sets guidelines for where and how quickly a facility must improve. 

Homes that meet safety and health guidelines are typically inspected every nine to 15 months. If a facility is classified as a Special Focus Facility, however, it must be inspected every six months and must graduate from the SFF designation within 18 months or it risks losing the ability to offer Medicare or Medicaid.

The list of SFF-designated facilities has previously been made publicly available. But until now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had shielded from the public eye the list of roughly 400 facilities that were considered for the program but didn't make the cut. 

Riverside Health and Rehab in North Charleston is the only facility in the state given the full SFF designation. The other five South Carolina facilities listed in the report were listed as candidates for the SFF program:

  • Commander Nursing Center, Florence
  • Blue Ridge of Sumter
  • Life Care Center of Hilton Head
  • Compass Post Acute Rehabilitation, Conway
  • PruittHealth — Blythewood, Columbia

The list does not make clear the number or kind of violations any of the facilities were cited for, nor does it mark their progress in fixing any issues. Medicare.gov, however, does periodically update a nursing home's database with information from safety and health inspections, as well as any penalties a nursing home has incurred.

Riverside Health and Rehab, for instance, has been fined four times since 2017 totaling over $322,000. In its most recent health inspection from February 2018 it was cited for three different violations. 

In an emailed statement, Riverside said that since it began in the Special Focus Facility program in April 2017, results from subsequent inspections have shown the facility continues to improve. In May, the statement said, the facility graduated from the program.

"Our residents will remain our first priority and we will continue working hard to achieve our goal of providing the highest quality care possible in a home-like environment," said Riverside administrator Jerrolyn Montgomery-Smalls.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., sits on the Senate Special Committee for Aging and said through a spokesman that while a majority of South Carolina facilities provide high-quality care, transparency in identifying the ones that don’t is an important initiative.

“Senator Scott believes in transparency and daylight is a positive antiseptic,” said spokesman Ken Farnaso. “Anytime we can improve the quality of an elderly person’s life, we should."

Farnaso added that Scott is working with multiple committees to advance quality improvement initiatives and “safeguard our state’s increasingly growing older population” but did not elaborate.

Shortly after getting the initial list of facilities considered for SFF designation, Casey and Toomey announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had committed to releasing for the first time a monthly update of nursing homes considered for the SFF program. 

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Contact Conner Mitchell at 843-958-1336. Follow him on Twitter at @ConnerMitchell0.

Conner Mitchell is a Kansas native covering Berkeley and Dorchester counties for The Post and Courier. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and has worked previously at the Kansas City Star, Lawrence Journal-World and Palm Beach Post.