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Hidden camera leads to 8 arrests at nursing home
Williamsville case cites neglect, coverup

A hidden-camera investigation led to charges Wednesday against eight employees of a Williamsville nursing home already rated as poor by government regulators.

The camera, trained on a female patient with her family's consent, revealed that records were falsified to cover up the lack of proper care at Williamsville Suburban Nursing Home on South Union Road, State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo said.

After a seven-week probe, Cuomo's office said that a certified nurse's aide failed to provide the patient with the range-of-motion therapy that prevents muscles from seizing and that two nurses failed to administer insulin, treat skin and wounds, and check vital signs. Each faces a felony count of falsifying business records.

The state officials charged five certified nurse's aides with endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor. They are accused of repeatedly failing to use a mechanical lift to transfer the woman in and out of bed, risking injury.

W. Richard Zacher, president of Williamsville Suburban LLC, said in a statement that the facility learned of the allegations just last week and began an internal investigation that showed "these were isolated occurrences."

"There was no harm caused to any resident as a result of the alleged conduct," he said. "Williamsville Suburban has suspended seven of the eight employees pending the outcome of the matter, and the eighth is no longer employed by the organization."

Williamsville Suburban, with about 220 beds and 650 employees, has a history of financial and quality issues. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid rates it "much below average" based on the state Health Department's recent inspections.

In 2008, the federal agency listed Williamsville Suburban as one of its "special focus facilities" -- nursing homes identified by states as having quality issues that merit more oversight. It is no longer on that list.

Cuomo's investigators have been using hidden cameras to obtain evidence of mistreatment at nursing homes across the state. The office said that to date, 30 nursing home employees in New York have been convicted based on surveillance recordings; a corporate owner has been convicted; and another has settled a civil lawsuit filed by the attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Cuomo on Wednesday disclosed similar findings from another hidden camera in Troy, at Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility. He reported that the staff routinely failed to turn and position an immobile resident, often leaving her in the same position for an entire shift. They failed to give medicines, treat bed sores and check undergarments for long periods. Fourteen employees were charged.

"With the consent of family members, we put hidden cameras in nursing homes across the state, watching over the vulnerable who often cannot advocate for themselves," Cuomo said in a news release. "My office is strongly committed to using all the tools at our disposal to make sure people are getting the medical treatment and the care they deserve."

Charged with a felony in the Williamsville case are:

*Deborah Groth, 61, a licensed practical nurse, or LPA, from Buffalo.

*Terri Brown, 37, also an LPA from Buffalo.

*Leslie Thompson, 61, a certified nurse's aide from Buffalo.

Charged with endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor, are five certified nurse's aides, all from Buffalo:

*Tweneboa Saow, 52.

*Linda Banks, 54.

*Laquita Jones, 25.

*Willena Bell, 49.

*Diane Handley, 47.

The owner Zacher and his two sisters in 2004 bought from their father, William, the licenses to operate Williamsville Suburban, Ridge View Manor in Buffalo and Sheridan Manor in the Town of Tonawanda.

Suburban is actually two buildings, one still owned by the father, who had run the business for decades, and the other by New 165 South Union Road Inc., owned by a Massachusetts real estate developer.

Due to past debts, W. Richard Zacher took the parent company, Legacy Health Care, into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2006. He has said he intends to return the facility to financial health and improve quality.

News Staff Reporter Henry L. Davis contributed to this report.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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