I-Team: Nursing home fire safety - WNEM TV 5

I-Team: Nursing home fire safety

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

It's a difficult decision faced by many adult children of aging parents - whether or not they should put them in a nursing home.

Once the decision is made, how do you know if they will be safe there? The I-Team investigated.

On Dec. 13, 2016 an elderly woman died when a small electrical fire struck her assisted living facility. The 98-year-old had little chance to escape. The facility had no history of problems.

"As you start combing through inspection reports you can find that there are deficiencies where the fire sprinklers and alarm systems are not adequately checked and fire extinguishers are out of date," said Brian Lee, director of Texas-based Families for Better Care.

Lee is the director of a watchdog group that tracks nursing home safety and looks into complaints and violations.

"I'd say that there are a lot of good actors out there, but there are still far too many bad actors. Yes, some regulations are pretty stringent when it comes to life safety code and issuing that the building is a safe place to live. But there are states that still have nursing homes without fire sprinkler systems and that shouldn't be happening," Lee said.

As the I-Team looked at nursing home safety they discovered the overwhelming majority of Michigan nursing homes are inspected annually. That's thanks to tough federal and state regulations from Medicare.

In Michigan there are 420 facilities that fall into the category of nursing home. Over the course of the year the state's team of 120 inspectors visit every building on the list to check for fire and health violations from top to bottom.

"The first thing I'm looking for is orderly. Making sure the building is orderly, making sure the exits are accessible," said Ralph Martin, fire marshal for the Saginaw Fire Department.

He teams up with state fire officials to inspect nursing homes in Mid-Michigan. He said you can rest assured knowing there is no shortage of inspectors or inspections on the facilities in Mid-Michigan.

"In my opinion for the ones that I have inspected, yes. I think they are safe. They've been very compliant to international fire code that we abide by and if we see something that needs to be addressed they always address it," Martin said.

The website known as Nursing Home Compare keeps track of inspection reports from every nursing home in the country if they accept Medicare and Medicare insurance.

The I-Team reviewed inspection reports from 2016. Among facilities in Mid-Michigan, some received an outstanding rating while others were cited as less than stellar. At least one received nearly $13,000 in federal fines.

Lee said you have to stay on top of reports and don't get trapped by the golden lobby, where everything looks great.

"Get outside of the lobby area because those places are made to look great. They look good. They smell good. They are like five star hotels and nursing homes invest a lot of money in their lobby, make the place look great, smell great," Lee said.

He said the best advice is to ask around.

"Get around into the hallways, talk to the residents, talk to the families. They'll tell you what it's like there. Look around and see how the staffing levels are in the building because staffing is the key to quality care in a nursing home," Lee said.

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