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Protesters demand improvements at Absolut of Aurora Park nursing home

Seventeen people gathered outside an East Aurora nursing home Sunday to protest what they call “horrific” conditions there.

Carrying neon signs with slogans like “residents before profits” and “inadequate staffing = inadequate care,” the protesters paced the sidewalk in front of Absolut Care of Aurora Park as passing drivers honked and waved at them.

Sunday’s protest was just the latest headache for the 320-bed nursing home, which has faced multiple citations from state regulators and criticism over staffing and patient care. Last week, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services downgraded the facility to a “one-star” quality rating, which denotes that a facility is "much-below average."

Protesters, who also picketed the facility in February and March, say they plan to hold monthly demonstrations until the home’s score improves to four stars or better.

“I couldn’t sit still and not do anything,” said Jennifer Page, the daughter of a former Absolut patient and the organizer of Sunday’s protest. “Seeing people there who don’t have family or someone else to advocate for them — I couldn’t let those people stay there and let that happen to them.”

Page said she became aware of care issues at Aurora Park after her father, Joseph Clark, entered the facility in late October 2018. Page alleges that her father wasn’t adequately bathed or fed, and that nurses didn’t refill his water pitcher or check that he took medicine.

Inside one of WNY's worst nursing homes: Absolut at Aurora Park

As the Buffalo News has previously reported, the nursing home is ranked one of the worst in New York State, and has in the past four years been fined almost $40,000 for violations. Page has since transferred her father to another area nursing home where she said the staff are more attentive.

Other protesters told similar stories. Judy Ruppert, whose mother died four months into her stay at Aurora Park, said aides repeatedly forgot to give her mother medication and sometimes failed to change her sheets and answer her “call” button.

Cheryl Darling, whose mother Nancy is a current resident, said she installed a camera in her mother’s room after she began losing weight. The camera showed aides sometimes went as many as 10 hours without checking on Nancy, Darling said, and frequently brought her meals late.

“There are staff here that are amazing,” she said. “We’re fighting for them as well. They shouldn’t have to work the way they work, scrambling all the time for help.”

Protesters say they hope their stories will prompt Absolut to hire more skilled nursing staff and to pay them better. Page is also calling on the state Department of Health to more aggressively investigate and punish alleged violations.

“Something major has to change,” she said. “There are so many one- and two-star facilities that are allowed to run — and they’re failing our community and our loved ones.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said the agency conducts regular, unannounced inspections and requires nursing homes to take corrective action when violations are found. Chris Luterek, Absolut's vice president for business development, also said the Aurora Park facility is constantly hiring new staff and pays above-average wages and benefits. The facility's recent one-star score is based on data from 2017 and early 2018, he added.

"We believe in having an open line of communication with our residents and their families," Luterek said of protesters' complaints. "If these allegations had merit, we are quite confident that the concerns would have been addressed immediately."

The next protest is scheduled for May 25.

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