World War II veteran Rosario "Russ" Bonanno was facing worsening dementia when his family brought him last year to the Department of Veterans Affairs nursing home in Bedford, Massachusetts. He had been in assisted living, but after six years, some family members thought he needed more specialized care.
Within days after Bonanno arrived, his son Nick said the 93-year-old was “dazed, confused, disheveled" as staff began medicating him. He wasn’t the only resident who looked drugged. "Everyone looks like a zombie," Nick said.
What Nick and his family didn’t know was that the Bedford facility ranked among the worst of 133 VA nursing homes across the country, in part for giving so many residents anti-psychotic drugs.
But the VA knew.
The agency has tracked detailed quality statistics on its nursing homes for years but has kept them from public view, depriving veterans of potentially crucial health care information. Nearly half of VA nursing homes nationwide – 60 – received the agency'slowest ranking of one out of five stars as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY and The Boston Globe.
The VA made some of its ratings public last week after receiving questions from the Globe and USA TODAY about all the secrecy. VA officials said President Donald Trump wanted to release the ratings all along and blamed the Obama administration for not making them public earlier.
Statistics the VA has not released paint a picture of government nursing homes that scored worse on average than their private sector counterparts on nine of 11 key indicators last year, including rates of anti-psychotic drug prescription and residents’ deterioration. In some cases, the internal documents show, the VAratings were only slightly worse. In others, such as the number of residents who are in pain, the VA nursing homes scored dramatically worse.
The worst-performing VA nursing homes were scattered across 32 states, including Pennsylvania, which had five one-star facilities, as well as Texas and California, which had four each. The VA facility in Bedford and another in Brockton, Massachusetts, were the only one-star nursing homes in New England