The exterior of the Medford Multicare Center for Living is...

The exterior of the Medford Multicare Center for Living is shown in May 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

Nine employees of the Medford Multicare Center for Living have been indicted, seven in connection with the death of a 72-year-old resident and an attempted cover-up. That means that the stunning 6-year total of 17 staff members of the nursing home convicted of negligence and other crimes could soon soar even higher.

Despite that abysmal record, the home regularly got passing grades from regulators. That disconnect highlights the need to strengthen state and federal procedures used to evaluate the quality of care vulnerable residents receive. But that hasn't happened in the four months since the arrests of most of the nine workers indicted and the state attorney general's lawsuit against the home's owners, alleging a history of abuse, neglect, inadequate staffing, cover-ups and profiteering.

Lawyers for the nursing home and its employees said their clients committed no crimes, and they are innocent until proved guilty. But if the attorney general is right, and the Medford home was able to fly dangerously under the regulatory radar, how can the public trust that others aren't doing the same, including the four other nursing homes on Long Island in which Medford's owners have ownership interests? According to the attorney general's civil complaint, those homes are Beach Terrace Care Center Inc., Grandell Health Inc., Smithtown Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Inc., and Oceanside Care Center Inc.

The Medford center could be an aberration. Staff members have been convicted in the past of falsifying records to cover up abuse and neglect. Willful deceit can compromise oversight that relies on reviewing records along with on-site inspections and probes of complaints. Still, officials have to do a better job detecting such obfuscation.

Some Medicaid payments to the home are being withheld. And the suit seeks to have a receiver appointed to oversee financial operations.

But it shouldn't take the death of a helpless resident and repeated criminal prosecutions to root out bad nursing homes.