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Medicare paid $5.1b for poor nursing home care

SAN FRANCISCO — Medicare paid about $5.1 billion in taxpayer dollars to nursing homes that were not meeting basic requirements to look after their residents, government investigators have found.

The report, released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general, said one out of every three stays in nursing homes in 2009 were in facilities that failed to follow basic care standards laid out by the federal agency that administers Medicare.

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In some cases, the conditions were dangerous and neglectful, the report said.

The elderly and other patients who need daily help from a nurse or therapist typically are sent to skilled nursing facilities, which can get reimbursed by the government for much of the care they provide.

By law, they need to write up care plans specially tailored for each resident, so doctors, nurses, therapists, and all other caregivers are on the same page about how to help residents reach the highest possible levels of physical, mental, and psychological well-being.

Not only are residents often going without the crucial help they need, but the government could be spending taxpayer money on facilities that could endanger people’s health, the report concluded.

The findings come as concerns about health care quality and cost are garnering heightened attention as the Obama administration implements the nation’s sweeping health care overhaul.

The review prompted sharp criticism Thursday from the head of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

‘‘Spending taxpayers’ money on facilities that provide poor care is unacceptable,’’ said the committee’s chairman, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida. ‘‘The government must do a better job of ensuring Medicare beneficiaries receive the highest quality of care.’’

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