Nursing Home Horror Stories Come From New York State and Beyond

There are frequent news stories about the terrible conditions and treatment found in some of the nation’s nursing home and assisted living facilities. Some recent examples are listed here:

Nursing Home Horror Stories – New York

Some of the citations published by the New York State Department of Health illustrate the problems that can affect nursing home patients:

A nursing home in upstate New York, the Guilderland Center Nursing Home, received 52 citations for deficiencies over the past three years, more than twice the average for New York nursing homes. A Boston Globe story reported that 40 percent of patients in this nursing home were given antipsychotic drugs – more than twice the number of patients nationally who receive antipsychotics in nursing homes.

This spring, Saint Catherine of Siena Nursing and Rehabilitation Care Center, in Smithtown, NY, received substandard ratings for medication errors and maintenance problems. Patients received the wrong doses or the wrong medications more times than allowed by licensing guidelines. In addition, the facility failed to remove expired medications from patient rooms.

Long Island State Veterans Home, a nursing home in Stony Brook, NY, was cited for not helping residents who could not eat by themselves, in violation both of state and federal laws and of the facility’s own policies.

In 2009, a New Rochelle, New York, nursing home, Sutton Park Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, was fined more than $30,000 for violations that included staff who lacked knowledge of the home’s CPR procedures. The home was also cited for having contradictory policies and procedures for resuscitating patients, depending upon the patients’ advance directives. A patient with advance directives for resuscitation was not given CPR when found unresponsive and later died.

Many New York nursing home citations involve administrative matters that could affect patient care, such as these:

The West Lodge Rehabilitation and Nursing Home in Peekskill, NY, was cited for several violations, including failure to develop and implement care plans for patients, including one patient with a history of frequent urinary tract infections and another who had a doctor’s order for a chair alarm.

In Scarsdale, New York, the Sprain Brook Manor Nursing Home was cited by the New York State Department of Health for failing to correct administrative violations, such as not notifying a resident’s designated legal representative of medication changes or other listed events.

Less recent violations include a 2004 citation of the Bishop Charles Waldo MacLean Episcopal Nursing Home in Far Rockaway, New York for failing to take steps to prevent residents from wandering inside the facility and eloping.

Nursing Home Horror Stories – Other States

New York state nursing homes are not alone in being called out for violations. In Georgia, a recent court case and conviction revealed a nursing home operator who had received $32.9 million in Medicaid and Medicare payments, but failed to provide adequate food, air conditioning, heat and clean rooms. In New Jersey, a 74-year-old woman living in a Bridgewater nursing home was struck and killed by a car as she tried to cross busy Route 22 in 2010. She allegedly left the facility through a side door in the early hours of the morning. Illinois officials recently revoked the license of a Joliet nursing home, Hillcrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Apparently, at least 23 residents were sexually, physically or mentally abused by another resident. Hillcrest has a history of complaints and state investigations that goes back at least 10 years.

Not Just Nursing Homes

Facilities for the disabled face similar challenges. The problems of these institutions have been underscored by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently proposed the creation of a Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. Tragic stories abound, including that of a 13-year-old autistic boy in Schenectady who was crushed to death by an employee with a criminal record.

Criminal Records Common Among Nursing Home Employees

Last year, the New York Times reported that more than 90 percent of nursing homes have at least one staff member convicted of a crime. Even worse, according to Daniel R. Levinson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Nearly half of nursing facilities employed five or more individuals with at least one conviction. For example, a nursing facility with a total of 164 employees had 34 employees with at least one conviction each.”

State laws vary, and a third of the states do not require nursing homes and other facilities to check federal or state criminal records. Only 10 states, including New York, require nursing home operators to check both federal and state criminal records. This allows even convicted predators to easily avoid detection, although most people who worked in nursing homes with criminal records were convicted of property crimes such as burglary. Amazingly, some employees with criminal records were convicted after they had begun working in a nursing facility, yet continued to care for patients.

Profit, Rather than Care, Is a Common Theme in the Nursing Home Industry

Many nursing homes appear to be operated by companies that are seeking to cash in on the Medicare and Medicaid payments that are the financial lifeblood of nursing homes. Cutting the costs of caring for residents is the way to maximize profit. According to the New York Times, when private equity firms purchase nursing homes, the result is often a reduction in staff and services, sometimes below the legal requirements for licensure. And the outcome for residents in these facilities is often poor. Residents in homes operated by these investment firms are more likely to have depression, loss of mobility and loss of self-sufficiency (ability to feed, bathe and dress themselves). Nursing homes acquired by large investment firms rated lower than the national average in 12 of 14 indicators used by regulators to track illness and injury in long-term residents.

As the U.S. population ages, society will need to grapple with how we care for our elderly loved ones. In the meantime, family members and advocates must remain alert to threats to the health and safety of their elderly loved ones in nursing homes throughout New York.

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