WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pat Blank fondly remembers the former management of Timely Mission Nursing Home in Buffalo Center, where her mother, Virginia Olthoff, was living.
Once, when she drove the 2 1/2 hours from her Shell Rock home for a visit, she learned the facility was under quarantine due to widespread flu. But the former owner knew Olthoff wasn’t sick, and instead of sending Blank home arranged for Olthoff to be brought out of her room for a one-on-one visit.
“This guy was hands on,” Blank said. “He knew every single resident there. They all knew him. I would hear him say, ‘You’re looking a little tired today, did you have a rough night?’”
Around seven years ago, Blank said, management changed hands.
“After that, little things weren’t the same,” she said.
But Timely Mission continued to enjoy a five-star rating, the highest possible ranking, from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for quality of resident care. So Blank thought nothing of her mother, who suffered from dementia, staying on at the facility.
That is, until Olthoff was unexpectedly taken to the emergency room and died a year ago at age 87, down about 50 pounds from her normal weight and with sodium levels high enough to suggest she had been denied water for days.
But it wasn’t until Blank got a call from a newspaper reporter that she learned the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which surveyed the facility in June, had found conditions inside Timely Mission constituted “immediate jeopardy” to residents’ health and safety.
“That’s where we learned about all the rest of that stuff — that (certified nursing assistants) had reported to upper management that she was crying out in pain,” Blank said. “They never even called me. They called me for everything else, but when they should have called me, they didn’t.”
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Olthoff’s story received widespread attention. The nursing home was fined by the federal and state governments, and two weeks ago Blank was asked by her neighbor, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, to speak to the Senate Finance Committee in Washington, D.C., this morning.
The hearing, “Not Forgotten: Protecting Americans From Abuse and Neglect in Nursing Homes,” was live-streamed on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s website.
“How a place with the highest possible rating could yield such a tragic incident is just outrageous,” Grassley said in a press release Tuesday. “Things need to change, both for the standards at care facilities and for how CMS rates them.
“When American families consider where their loved ones can get the care they need, they should be able to rely on CMS information. That’s clearly not the case right now,” Grassley added. “Ms. Blank will give the committee important insight into what needs to be done and CMS will update us on the progress it’s making to help families like hers.”
Blank will be among seven witnesses at the hearing, including the daughter of a woman raped by a nursing home assistant in Minneapolis as well as people who work in health care fraud and oversee CMS.
She credits Grassley with helping her through the ordeal, beginning months ago when he made sure a fine against the home was levied, she said.
“I hope that somebody at least starts to pay attention,” Blank said. “This cannot continue to happen over and over again. These cases multiply every single day.”