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HighPointe employees had neglected bedridden patient with neurological disease

The 17 workers fired from the HighPointe care facility this week neglected a 56-year-old man who suffered from Huntington’s chorea, a neurological disease that left the resident completely non-ambulatory and bedridden, according to the State Attorney General’s Office.

He was totally dependent on the nursing staff of Highpointe for his care, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said.

An investigation into the patient’s treatment relied on a hidden camera placed in the patient’s room and revealed “a disturbing pattern of neglect.” according to Schneiderman’s statement.

The video footage showed both nurses and certified nurse’s aides routinely ignored their duties, according to Schneiderman. On a number of occasions during the surveillance period, nurses failed to dispense pain medication and check on the resident. Aides neglected to check on the resident, failed to give him liquids and failed to perform incontinent care. The nurses and aides then falsified documents in an effort to conceal their neglect, he said.

“Nursing home residents are among our state’s most vulnerable citizens, and the perpetual neglect in this case is shameful,” Schneiderman said in his statement.

The patient at the nursing home on Michigan Avenue was identified in court papers only as “LM” in order to protect his family’s privacy.

Kaleida has already fired the 17 employees “for neglectful care of one resident,” a Kaleida spokesman said Thursday.

Charges were filed against the 17 employees of Highpointe on Michigan Health Care Facility in Buffalo. Eight nurses and nine nursing assistants are being charged with a variety of class E felony counts in Buffalo City Court.

The nurses and aides were charged with first-degree falsifying business records, a felony; first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a felony; and willful violation of public health laws, a felony. Conviction of a class E felony carries a prison sentence of up to four years.

The eight nurses charged are Natalie Galbo, 30, RN, of Amherst; Shateeka Stevens, 39, LPN, Cheektowaga; Michael Howell, 40, LPN, Buffalo; Heidi Bowens, 41, LPN, Buffalo; Rochelle McNeair-Tisdale, 55, LPN, Buffalo; Jamie Cunningham, 26, LPN, Buffalo; Cynthia Kozlowski, 60, LPN, Getzville; and Marlene Sims, 58, LPN, Cheektowaga.

The nursing assistants charged are Rubetta Harrell, 54, of Cheektowaga; Nicole Baker, 35, Buffalo; Tiffany Heard-Williams, 35, Buffalo; Ruteasha McCray, 35, Buffalo; Kenissa Henderson, 27, Buffalo; Mariah Robinson, 20, Buffalo; Margaret Glass, 23, Buffalo; Amanda Stuart, 34, Sloan; and Hazell Clegatt, 43, Buffalo.

“This behavior, and lack of appropriate care, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Kaleida spokesman Michael P. Hughes said in a statement. “When we were made aware of the situation, we took action.”

Kaleida has cooperated with the State Attorney General’s Office, Hughes said.

Local 1168, Communication Workers of America, which represents 180 licensed practical nurses at HighPointe, confirmed that six of its members were arrested on charges of falsifying documents. The licensed practical nurses were accused of falsifying that patient care was provided when it was not, the union said.

“There’s a lot of good workers out there delivering great care. It’s sad for all of us,” said Cori A. Gambini, a registered nurse who is president of the CWA local. “I hope it’s not true.”

Gambini said she and other union representatives are awaiting additional information on the accusations against the workers.

“If the allegations are true, that can’t be tolerated,” Gambini said.

“CWA was saddened to hear of the allegations against these six members as patient neglect at any level is a tragedy and cannot be tolerated,” the union said in its statement.

The union said that it would meet with the fired employees to determine whether the allegations are true and to decide what actions to take.

The 300-bed HighPointe on Michigan health care facility opened in December 2011 on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The $64 million facility replaced the 242-bed Deaconess Center on Humboldt Parkway and the 75-bed skilled-nursing unit in the former Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle.

About 270 beds are devoted for residential health care, with the rest for pediatric and ventilator patients, according to state Health Department data.

The state received 119 complaints and incident reports through this February. The facility’s 44.8 complaints per 100 occupied beds were worse than the state average of 34.1, according to state Health Department data.

The state Health Department conducted 59 on-site inspections at HighPointe. State data shows that the facility’s 6.4 deficiency citations per 100 occupied beds were worse than the statewide average of 2.2.

Eleven of the 17 citations dealt with quality of care.

Inspectors did not observe actual harm during any visits to the facility since 2013 but found that many of the problems had the potential for more than minimal harm. Slightly more than half of the problems noted by inspectors were deemed isolated, with the rest part of a pattern. But none of the problems was widespread, according to the state data.

“Safe and reliable care must be at the core of what we do,” Hughes said in the Kaleida statement. Residents, he said, are “our first and foremost concern.”

“The care delivered at the bedside must determine who we are, what we stand for and reinforce that serving our patients is the reason for our existence,” Hughes said “The community is deserving of a high-quality and patient-centered health care. We must and will deliver that.”

Kaleida will continue to work with the Attorney General’s Office and any other government agency “to remove any and all employees who are charged with a crime of patient neglect,” according to its statement.

The last time a local nursing home investigation targeted as many employees was in 2010, when a hidden-camera probe led to charges against eight employees at Williamsville Suburban nursing home in connection with the care of two patients.

State authorities have undertaken similar investigations elsewhere in the state this year, leading to multiple-employee charges.

In February, the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrests of nine employees at the Medford Multicare Center for Living in Suffolk County. Seven of the arrests were connected to the 2012 death of a 72-year-old resident. The corporation operating the home and the facility’s top administrator were also charged.

In March, the Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against 10 employees at the Blossom North Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rochester. The investigation, which relied on a hidden camera, revealed a pattern of neglect toward a resident, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

A state Department of Health spokesman said the department is aware of the HighPointe situation and is taking appropriate action.

Jacqueline Livingston contacted The Buffalo News on Thursday after learning about the charges. She said she complained to state Department of Health officials about her mother’s treatment at HighPointe. Her mother died there April 13, 2013.

“I really believe my mother’s life would have been prolonged if she would have received the proper care,” Livingston said of her mother, Bernice Livingston. “I am still very angry after a year.”

Her complaint, she said, dealt with sanitary, dietary and medical shortcomings. A state Department of Health investigator interviewed her at the facility.

“I once found my mother in a diabetic coma there. They had been giving her foods that she should not have received as a diabetic: milkshakes and desserts,” said Livingston, who works as a medical assistant at an area hospital.

The News could not determine whether Livingston’s complaint is connected to the pending criminal charges.

Her mother had suffered a major stroke and was transferred to HighPointe after being treated at Buffalo General Medical Center.

“She did well in the rehabilitation unit at the facility and was actually showing progress,” the daughter said, “but when she was placed in long-term care, that is when everything went downhill.”

HighPointe posted a 97 percent occupancy rate, according to a state report last month.

News Medical Reporter Henry L. Davis and Business Reporter Stephen T. Watson contributed to this report. email: