The state Health Department should appoint a receiver to immediately take over the troubled Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Thursday.
At a news conference outside the 122-bed nursing home on Delaware Avenue, Poloncarz said he is seeking the change because of several recent incidents at Emerald South, including the death of a resident who climbed out a third-floor window and an allegation that an administrator molested a resident.
He said he's been told there is no running water available to wash linen at Emerald South, so linen is being trucked to public laundromats to be washed, which he says is a potential health risk.
If Erie County had the power to close the nursing home, he would do that, Poloncarz said, adding he wants the state to eventually force the sale of the nursing home.
"The current situation at Emerald South is unacceptable and is obviously placing residents in danger," he said.
The Health Department is investigating an allegation that surfaced this week that a former assistant director of nursing sexually abused a resident. That administrator resigned about three weeks ago, following an altercation with a resident, an Emerald South spokesman said Wednesday.
Emerald South was designated a Special Focus Facility by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in June. The designation followed an incident in which 87-year-old resident William Strasner fell to his death while using a makeshift rope to escape out the window of his third-floor room.
Two years ago, 82-year-old Ruth Murray, also a resident in the dementia unit, was beaten to death when she mistakenly wandered into the room of another dementia resident, an 84-year-old man. The DOH fined Emerald South $10,000, in part, for lack of adequate supervision.
Under the Special Focus Facility designation, the nursing home is now receiving closer scrutiny by the state Health Department.
Todd Hobler, vice president of 1199 SEIU, which represents workers at the home, supported Poloncarz's demand.
"The union fully supports the call for the appointment of a receiver to operate Emerald South. The current management has failed to provide adequate care to the residents or shown respect to the people who care for them. They've lost their right to operate the nursing home," Hobler said.
Judy Landa, of Long Island, is the sole operator of the home. Her husband, Benjamin Landa, owns the real estate where the home sits. The couple have the same arrangement for Emerald North, a nursing home a short distance away on Delaware.
Judy Landa has not responded to requests for an interview from The Buffalo News.
Emerald South spokesman Michael A.L. Balboni has told The News the owners of the facility are considering selling it.
"They are in transition discussions with people who are looking to possibly pick up the facility," Balboni said.
Reacting to Poloncarz's criticisms, Benjamin Landa, through another spokesman, demanded an apology from the county executive for calling his family “deadbeats from downstate.”
The spokesman said that Landa and his wife have spent and lost millions of dollars on Emerald South and can prove it through tax statements.
Poloncarz said he was concerned that the state may not move forward in ending the current ownership because of political connections.
"The nursing home is owned by very wealthy, powerful people downstate who are politically connected and being protected by their benefactors," the county executive said, vowing that he will not allow downstate interests to block the state from acting in the best interest of residents here. "We matter."
Also at the news conference, Beth Kennedy raised concerns about her friend Dan Tracy, a resident at the facility. She said he will sometimes contact her at 3 p.m. to say he has not had his breakfast.
Unable to feed himself, she said she will walk over to the nursing home and assist him.
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Poloncarz said he not only wants the DOH to investigate overall operations at the facility, but he has called for criminal charges and civil actions. He cited the union's complaints about payroll checks bouncing, failure to account for payroll deductions and deposits into a pension fund and a workers' training fund.
Repeatedly returning to the topic of laundry being sent out, he said, the practice constitutes a safety threat. Coin-operated laundromats lack heavy duty machines capable of eliminating bacteria associated with hospitals and nursing homes, he said.
Virginia Holt, who retired in April from the facility's laundry department after 42 years, said that water is not the only issue.
"The washing machines have been broken and when I was there the hot water was lukewarm," Holt said.
Balboni, the Emerald South spokesman, said the water disruption at the nursing home lasted for about an hour during recent required maintenance.
New washing machines will be installed next week, he said.
All of the laundry has been sent out to a professional laundry service, he said.
In a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board, union attorney Catherine Creighton said that in addition to payroll irregularities, understaffing and unsafe and unsanitary conditions, Emerald South has failed "to provide telephone service in the nursing home so that no one make 911 emergency calls or otherwise."
Balboni said a weather-related event in April knocked out the phone system’s master board at the nursing home and it took three days to replace it. During that time, all of the administrators used their cell phones.
Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services Timothy R. Hogues urged the public to contact his office at 858-8526 to report concerns about Emerald South and other nursing homes.
"I tell people selfishly we ourselves could face being placed in a nursing home like this ... or your mom or your dad," Hogues said in stressing that those with complaints document them.