The 85-year-old retired school teacher had one last lesson to learn before she died of cancer on Monday.
It was a painful lesson and one her family members say she never should have experienced.
When the assisted living facility where Marion Halstead resided no longer could care for her because of her deteriorating condition, she was placed in a Hospice-designated bed at a Newfane nursing home.
But after just a few days there, Halstead told relatives she was abused by staff, she soiled herself because she could not get help to go the bathroom and and other patients tormented her.
"I hate it here," Marion Halstead cried out from her wheelchair in the tiny room several days before she died. "This place is torture. You're not a person here. You're a thing. You can call out 'nurse' a hundred times and no one comes."
That lack of compassion was something she should not have experienced in her final days, her two daughters said.
Halstead's older daughter, Liz Kline, contacted The Buffalo News, asking that a reporter meet her mother at the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center to see the situation firsthand on July 1.
Halstead said her worst experiences occurred at night.
"I call out 'I want to go potty,' " said Halstead, whose stage 4 colorectal cancer made it impossible for her to use her shared bathroom unassisted.
More than once, she said she soiled herself.
Throughout the interview, Halstead begged her daughter to take her out of the nursing home. Kline listened patiently to her mother and assured her she was making every possible effort to get her transferred to the Niagara Hospice House in the Town of Lockport.
Halstead was under the care of Niagara Hospice, which has a contract with the Newfane nursing home.
"I feel as though I placed my mother in the gateway to hell," Kline said. "This is no place for a dying person. Is this the last place she'll see?"
It turns out it was not.
Seven days before Halstead died this Monday, July 10, a bed became available at Niagara Hospice House.
"My mother literally went from hell to heaven. The care was 150 percent. I mean the staff is wonderful, wonderful. My mother was able to die with dignity and respect," Kline said Tuesday.
But she endured 11 days at the Newfane facility.
Kline and her younger sister Linda Schumacher say they are sharing their mother's story in order to let other families know that they need to do their homework when making decisions on where to place dying loved ones.
When The News contacted Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center for a response to the criticisms, Michael Murphy, the facility's interim administrator, issued a statement:
"There is no one in the facility to whom you can speak with. The owners have instructed us to tell you that."
Maximus Healthcare LLC of Lakewood, N.J., purchased the 165-bed facility for $4.6 million in January 2015 from Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport, according to public records. Several attempts to reach Maximus officials for comment were unsuccessful.
Kline and Schumacher said they selected the Newfane nursing home because it was close to their homes in Lockport and Burt where many relatives and friends also reside.
Entering nursing home
She entered the Newfane facility on June 23rd, which happened to be her 54th wedding anniversary.
"What a terrible way it was for her to celebrate her wedding anniversary," Kline said.
What the two sisters did not know at the time was that the federal government's Medicare program had given the Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center an overall rating of "much below average" when compared to other nursing homes.
In particular, the rating cited staffing levels and health inspections as subpar.
New York State Department of Health records show that the Newfane facility received 52 complaints against it from 2013 to 2016. Earlier this year, the Medicaid website posted findings from a March inspection of the facility that cited dirty toilet areas, urine odors and dead bugs.
"…the facility did not provide housekeeping and maintenance services necessary to maintain a sanitary, orderly, and comfortable interior.
"Three of four resident care units had issues with damaged walls, stained ceiling tiles, damaged or stained floors, dead bugs in light fixtures, strong urine odor in a resident's bathroom…stained toilets/toilet seats," the report, in part, stated.
The level of actual or potential harm from these conditions to residents, however, was rated by the government as "minimal," but Kline said her mother and other residents should not have to live in those conditions.
"I saw a woman patient eating discarded food from other patients in a cart in a hallway. When I told an aide, the aide looked and told one of the nurses on the floor and the nurse shrugged her shoulders and said, 'Oh well, it's done now.' She didn't care. It was gross and I almost threw up," Kline said.
Halstead not only endured unsanitary conditions but uproars and bizarre behaviors, according to relatives and friends.
"The guy in the room next to Aunt Marion smelled so bad of urine, it made your stomach retch. He would sit in the hallway and scream obscene profanities, really dirty stuff my aunt did not need to hear.
"The woman in the room on the other side would wander into my aunt's room and lie down on her bed or touch stuff or sit and stare at you. She was nice but it was off-putting to my aunt," said Heather Torriere.
But the worst of it was when Halstead told family members an aide struck her in the face either late on the night of July 1 or in the early morning hours of July 2.
"She was actually hit by an aide. She was traumatized by that. When we got her to Hospice House, we had to assure her the aide was not there, " Torriere said.
Jackie Nordin, another niece, confronted the aide when she learned of the alleged attack.
"My aunt started yelling and screaming when the aide walked into the room while I was visiting the nursing home later that day. I said, 'Wait a minute, what is going on?' My aunt said the aide grabbed her face and forced her into the bed and was holding her down into bed.
"I said to the aide, 'Excuse me, what went on here?'
"The aide said, 'She kicked me in the back of the head and scratched me.' My aunt started yelling, 'I'm not strong enough to lift my legs and I have no nails or strength to scratch.' My aunt told the aide 'hold your arms out' and there were no marks at all," Nordin said.
The alleged attack resulted in Kline filing a complaint with the state Health Department. She also filed a second complaint, citing unclean conditions at the nursing home.
Schumacher says she also intends to file complaints with the state.
"I called the nursing home and the assistant director told me that the aide has now been suspended and that they are still investigating the incident," Schumacher said.
When Kline notified Hospice later on July 2 to report the alleged assault, she said a Hospice nurse showed up almost immediately to check on her mother. A day later, July 3, Halstead was transferred to Niagara Hospice House on Sunset Drive.
John Lomeo, the president and CEO of Niagara Hospice, said he was not permitted to discuss specific Hospice patients, but he said that as soon as one of the 20 beds at the Hospice campus opens "we bring the person here."
Lomeo said that beds at Niagara House Hospice are in high demand because of the facility's excellent reputation.
"Everyone wants to come here, and yes, we aren't going to have enough space," he said, adding that most Hospice organizations do not have facilities of their own.
So Niagara Hospice has contractual agreements with nursing homes to accommodate additional patients.
"Our nurses go into the nursing homes, our social workers go in, our spiritual care workers go in," he said of the network of services Hospice provides.
When told about Halstead's experience at Newfane Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, Lomeo declined to comment.
Kline and Schumacher say families need to research ahead of time the facilities that Hospice organizations have contracts with to provide residential care for dying loved ones.
And while the "best scenario" for that type of care is often in the familiar surroundings of the person's home, that is not always possible, according to Kelley Clem, vice president of patient advocacy and education at the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Erie County.
"What families need to do is go in and look at the nursing homes and look at the ratings on the nursing homes and then know that Hospice is going to be contributing to the value that is already there," Clem said.
Find the federal Medicare site with ratings here.
State Department of Health lists information on nursing homes under the heading "health facilities" here.
Kline said her mother's death, at 10:15 a.m. Monday in Niagara Hospice House, was peaceful.
"She had to be relaxed to go. She couldn't relax in that other place. She was uptight," the daughter said. "We were in the room with her for an hour after she died. She was at peace."