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Andy Beshear picks nursing home exec as watchdog of troubled nursing home industry

Lexington Herald-Leader - 1/10/2020

Jan. 10--To watchdog Kentucky's troubled nursing home industry, Gov. Andy Beshear has picked an executive from Signature HealthCare, a Louisville-based corporation that owns more than two dozen low-rated nursing homes around the state.

Adam Mather, who was Signature's regional vice president of operations, started Dec. 30 as inspector general at the Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet.

Mather will be paid $112,381 a year to oversee a state office that -- among other duties -- inspects several hundred nursing homes in Kentucky on behalf of the federal government, which pays for the bulk of residents' care through Medicare and Medicaid. Poor results on inspections can lead to expensive fines and, in extreme cases, loss of federal funding.

Many Signature nursing homes haven't been faring well in these inspections.

A Herald-Leader analysis of 42 Signature facilities in Kentucky shows that 25 are rated as "much below average" or "below average" by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services five-star rating system, which considers quality of patient care, staffing and health inspections.

Signature HealthCare at Jefferson Place in Louisville, for example, was hit with $140,421 in fines in 2018 after inspectors cited repeated cases of resident neglect that led to physical injuries and personal humiliation. It's rated as one-star, or "much below average."

The average rating across the company's Kentucky facilities was two-star, or "below average."

"It's troubling that someone from the industry now gets to oversee the industry," said Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington. Edelman tracks problems with nursing homes nationwide.

"I don't know him personally, so who knows, maybe he'll turn into a whistle-blower," Edelman added. "But generally, I think our regulators should be independent of the industries they regulate and not come from within their ranks. There should not be this revolving door between them, with people moving back and forth. Why not appoint an advocate, someone who cares about the residents and who has a track record of being a little more skeptical of the companies?"

According to his online resume posted at LinkedIn, Mather earned a bachelor's of science in nursing from Georgia State University in 2012. He started the next year as a director with Kindred Healthcare, a nursing home chain that Signature soon acquired, and worked his way up into executive leadership at Signature's corporate headquarters.

Signature chief executive officer Joe Steier noted Mather's hiring Jan. 3 with a congratulatory Tweet that called it "a huge loss for us but a great call by Governor Beshear!" Signature did not respond to requests seeking comment Friday; nor did Beshear's office.

In a statement, acting Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said: "Our mission is to prioritize safety and ensure quality health care for Kentucky families. Our job is to keep people healthy and safe, and the Office of the Inspector General works to make health care facilities better. Adam is fully committed to ensuring there is never a conflict of interest and to maintaining absolute integrity within the OIG. The entire OIG team are a vital part of this mission."

Kentucky's nursing home industry has given several hundred thousand dollars in state political donations in recent years, to Beshear, members of the General Assembly from both parties and others. Signature executives alone have made at least $20,500 in donations since 2015, according to state campaign-finance data.

The Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, which lobbies on the industry's behalf in Frankfort, said Friday that it looks forward to working with the new inspector general. The group has publicly criticized previous inspectors general for being too difficult.

"Mr. Mather is a nurse. He's had some management experience with his career. So he's obviously qualified for the job," said Betsy Johnson, president of the industry group.

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