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State cites nursing homes for misleading ads on Alzheimer’s care

State regulators are citing more than four dozen Massachusetts nursing homes for advertising dementia care services when they don’t actually offer the kind of care required to make such a claim, according to the Department of Public Health.

The department’s action follows a July review by the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire of how the state’s nursing homes advertise their services. The review found nearly 60 percent of facilities that advertised memory, dementia, or cognitive care had not documented the requisite training, staffing, or design adjustments to be called a dementia special care facility.

The association’s findings were similar to a smaller Globe review conducted in February.

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“As a result of our review, a statement of deficiency is being sent to 52 nursing homes,” Sherman Lohnes, director of the division that regulates nursing homes, stated in a letter sent last week to the Alzheimer’s Association president.

“Each of these facilities must remedy the violation cited against them either by modifying their advertising, or complying with all of the dementia special care unit requirements in the regulations,” Lohnes said. Failure to comply could result in further penalties.

In addition, the health department said it found about 40 other nursing homes had been improperly advertising dementia care services but recently removed that information from their ads after regulators sent advisory letters to all nursing homes last month clarifying the rules.

Those August letters acknowledged that state regulators had previously advised nursing homes they would be allowed to include references to dementia care in their advertising — even if they had not completed the more stringent requirements — as long as they added a disclaimer.

Massachusetts has about 400 nursing homes.

Helen Magliozzi, director of regulatory affairs for the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a nursing home trade group, said nursing homes are “committed to doing the right thing and complying with the regulations and guidance provided by the [department],” but the state’s changing rules have made it difficult.

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She noted that regulators completed their review of nursing home websites Aug. 23 — just two days after changing previous guidance given to nursing facilities.

“I would suspect that a significant number of nursing facilities had corrected their websites prior to the issuance of the deficiency letters” by the state health department, Magliozzi said.

James Wessler, president of the Alzheimer’s Association, said he is pleased state regulators are taking the issue of nursing home advertising seriously. The association maintains a database of nursing homes so it can offer suggestions to families asking about dementia care. Wessler said the association wanted to ensure it was giving out accurate information.

“The overwhelming majority of nursing homes that are providing dementia special care units are doing a really good job,” Wessler said. “It’s a tough industry, and there are many dedicated staff out there who are working tirelessly.”


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