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Editorial: Protect nursing home's residents

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz is absolutely right. The state Health Department should appoint a receiver to immediately take over the Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The owners claim that someone is interested in buying the place. If that happens, state officials need to make sure that the new owner or owners place the highest priority on the residents’ health and well-being.

Some disturbing incidents at the nursing home and claims made by residents and former employees suggest that has not been the case.

For example, as the county executive pointed out, a resident who climbed out a third-floor window died and an administrator is alleged to have molested a resident.

Poloncarz said he has been told no running water is available to wash linen at Emerald South, so it is being trucked to public laundromats which he accurately points out creates a health risk.

As egregious as these claims are, the county executive has no power to close the nursing home. It is privately owned. The state should do it. Fast.

The county executive has a plan: The state should force the sale of the nursing home.

First things first. The Health Department is investigating an allegation that a former assistant director of nursing sexually abused a resident. The situation is fragile. The administrator in question resigned about three weeks ago, following an altercation with a resident. Several questions surround that incident, demanding immediate and concrete answers.

Emerald South has been troubled. It was designated a Special Focus Facility by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in June. The designation occurred after 87-year-old William Strasner fell to his death while using a makeshift rope to escape from the facility. A resident of the dementia unit, Strasner was making the attempt from the window of his third-floor room.

That incident followed one a couple of years earlier in which Ruth Murray, 82, also a resident in the dementia unit, was fatally beaten. She mistakenly wandered into the room of another dementia resident, an 84-year-old man. Emerald South was fined $10,000 from the Department of Health. Part of the fine was for lack of adequate supervision.

The union supports the county executive in his demand for a receiver to operate the nursing home. Todd Hobler, vice president of 1199 SEIU, which represents workers at the nursing home, told The News that “ … 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.”

Judy Landa of Long Island is the sole operator of the home. Her husband, Benjamin Landa, owns the real estate on which the home sits. The same is true for Emerald North, a nursing home a short distance away on Delaware Avenue. As The News article indicated, and Emerald South spokesman said the owners of the facility are considering selling it and are “in transition discussions” with interested parties. If true, the state must ensure that any party or parties would be responsible stewards who will work diligently to maintain the health and well-being of the residents.

The spokesman for the Landas said the couple has spent millions of dollars on Emerald South and can prove that effort through tax statements. That may very well be the case. But there is no doubt that there’s a problem identified by the county executive been backed up by tragic incidents at the nursing home.

It can be difficult finding a top-notch nursing home for loved ones. Even the best, if you ask family members, have problems. But the extent to which Emerald South has been under scrutiny seems exceptional.

The state should step in and appoint a receiver. Immediately.

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