In light of a recent report that listed a Copley nursing home among the worst in the nation, Summit County is exploring creating a group to examine the condition of nursing homes in the county and advocate for change.

Fairlawn Rehab and Nursing Center in Copley is one of five Ohio nursing homes on a list of 88 federal “Special Focus Facilities” nationwide with the most serious history of quality of care issues. The nursing home was featured in stories in the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com over the weekend after Pennsylvania senators released the list last week to raise awareness and put pressure on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to be transparent.

"The very idea that ladies and gentlemen who are in these facilities pass from their lives and have to have the last human experience they have on this earth to be treated in this manner is beyond comprehension,” Summit County Council President Jeff Wilhite, who proposed creating the commission or task force, said Monday.

Wilhite said the group would be similar to the jail advisory commission, which examined the Summit County Jail and proposed changes last summer. He added the nursing home group could promote legislation at the state level.

Wilhite became emotional while talking, explaining his mother-in-law died in December. He said she lived in a facility but didn't have any of the negative experiences residents in the Copley facility said they had.

After County Council’s committee meetings on Monday, Wilhite invited Tonia Burford, director of the environmental health division at Summit County Public Health, and Sam McCoy, senior vice president for elder rights at Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities, to talk to council members about the county’s options at the local level and explain "how something like this could happen in our backyard,” Wilhite said.

McCoy said there are more than 8,000 residents in Summit County nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other adult care facilities, adding the Copley facility is “on the ropes.”

"I think that it is an appropriate and proper thing to do to develop a task force or develop a group to look internally here in our county and how we can improve the care of residents in these facilities,” said McCoy, adding advocacy, education and outreach would be good areas for the commission to focus on.

Burford said the county health department goes to long-term facilities, like the Copley facility, twice a year for food inspections, but that’s where its jurisdiction ends, as the Ohio Department of Health has jurisdiction over inspections of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Burford, who said the Copley facility has had the “SFF” designation since January, said its food inspections over the last two years were "unremarkable," with "normal violations that you would normally see," but no food handling violations, which are what the agency would be most concerned about.

"They were pretty responsive to fixing those items, at least in the kitchen,” Burford said. “It seems like the problems lie outside of the kitchen, which is not the purview of the local health department."

Wilhite said in the coming weeks, he’ll talk with County Executive Ilene Shapiro, council members and others interested in being part of the commission. Wilhite said he especially wants to involve family members of nursing home residents.

“I cannot accept the excuse that there are systems in place because clearly, they're failing,” Wilhite said. “I cannot accept that we as a local community cannot do something about this ... Now we have the distinction, not just in the county, not just in the state, but nationally, as one of the counties with the absolute worst nursing home conditions in the country.”

 

Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com or @EmilyMills818.