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Union battling nursing homes places Globe ad highlighting HealthBridge’s antipsychotic track record

In bold, bright red lettering, a full-page advertisement in Tuesday’s Boston Globe warns readers that elderly nursing homes residents in three HealthBridge Management-owned Massachusetts facilities are given antipsychotic drugs at rates much higher than the national average -- despite federal warnings about lethal side effects from the powerful sedatives.

The ad was paid for by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a union that represents thousands of workers in five states, including Massachusetts, and is affiliated with a labor group battling Healthbridge in six Connecticut nursing homes.

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The ads detail the high rates of antipsychotic use at Holyoke Rehabilitation Center; Lowell Health Care Center; and Newton Health Care Center -- measured by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that regulates nursing homes.

The latest CMS data show that roughly 75 percent of residents at Holyoke Rehabilitation Center who do not have a medical condition that would warrant use of antipsychotics are receiving the drugs. At the Lowell facility, the rate is 64 percent, and in Newton it is 38 percent.

Earlier this year, a Globe series found that antipsychotic overuse is prevalent in many of the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes, and that rates are considerably higher in Massachusetts. Federal data obtained by the Globe for that series show that antipsychotic overuse at the three HealthBridge facilities highlighted by the SEIU ad has remained well above the state median since at least 2005.

However, HealthBridge operates a dozen other nursing homes in Massachusetts, and all but one have much lower rates of antipsychotic use, according to the latest CMS data. The exception is Cedar Hill Health Care Center in Randolph, with a 36 percent rate.

Lisa Crutchfield, a HealthBridge Management spokesperson, said in an e-mailed statement that the company’s Massachusetts facilities “offer exemplary care to our residents and we take great pride in that care.”

She said the company is working with physicians to reduce medications where appropriate.

“But that’s not what the ads are really about,” her statement said. “The SEIU has been waging a formal and intensive corporate campaign to smear HealthBridge because of a labor dispute in Connecticut and an organizing campaign in Massachusetts. It is shameful.”

SEIU spokesman Jeff Hall said in a statement that nursing home staffers are “simultaneously concerned about working conditions” within HealthBridge facilities and about a “range of potential resident care issues within the chain,” including antipsychotic rates.

“HealthBridge has engaged in a series of strategic and cynical tactics against their own employees which have prompted caregivers to respond publicly on a range of labor and resident care issues,” Hall said.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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