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Investigations, fines, lawsuits reveal troubles at local nursing homes

An $85,925 fine against Safire Rehabilitation of Southtowns was the fifth-largest federal fine imposed on a nursing home in New York State in the last three years.

State Department of Health inspectors in May 2016 found that a licensed practical nurse at the Buffalo nursing home failed to disinfect a shared blood glucose meter when testing up to 20 residents, including two who had known communicable bloodborne diseases.

Other LPNs who cleaned glucose meters at the Dorrance Avenue facility were not using the proper cleaning agents, “germicidal or bleach wipes,” but instead using alcohol swabs, according to the Health Department.

The department cited the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended practice that “whenever possible blood glucose meters should be assigned to an individual person and not be shared.”

Glucose meters range in price from about $9 to more than $100, according to a check of online retailer prices.

In addition, inspectors found that certified nurse assistants, after providing fecal incontinence care to two residents, did not remove soiled gloves and wash their hands before touching items in the residents' rooms, another way of spreading infection.

The home had no infection control nurse for a year because of a vacancy, had not trained all nursing staff about infection control in the past year and had not trained all certified nursing aides on competencies due to staff shortages.

In April, Safire of Southtowns was rated by the federal government as a two-star nursing home, or "below average." Repeated phone calls from The Buffalo News to the out-of-town owners of Safire Southtowns were not returned. The home is owned by a company associated with four New York City area residents: Solomon Abramczyk, Judy Landa, Richard Platschek and Robert Schuck.

The problems that led to Safire Southtowns being fined are among the many alarming allegations at nursing homes in Erie and Niagara counties that The Buffalo News discovered while reviewing inspections, police reports and lawsuits.

Here are some others:

Nursing home fined $20,000

The staff at Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Williamsville did not try to revive a resident who stopped breathing because it mistakenly believed she had signed a "do not resuscitate" order, the Health Department concluded.

A February 2016 inspection at the nursing home found that a certified nurse’s assistant grabbed the wrong medical chart – that of another resident, which contained a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. The woman was not resuscitated and died.

But moments later, the licensed practical nurse who had been handed the chart by the aide realized it was the wrong folder and that the deceased had wanted life-sustaining measures.

The state fined Comprehensive Rehabilitation $20,000 because of that mix-up and other conditions at the home, including repeat deficiencies in housekeeping and maintenance, ceiling leaks in the kitchen and showing a “lack of dignity” for residents who were served meals on disposable dishes and drinks in Styrofoam cups.

The federal government's overall rating of the facility is one star, or "much below average," which is the lowest ranking.

Resident drugged 

An 87-year-old resident at the Elderwood at Wheatfield nursing home required two doses of Narcan to revive her and she underwent a rape kit test after she was taken to a local hospital in August 2017, an attorney for her family said.

There was bruising in the woman’s inner thighs, but no evidence could be found that she was sexually assaulted, according to Niagara County sheriff’s investigators. But investigators reported blood tests found an antidepressant in the woman's system that was not prescribed to her.

“Tricyclic medications were found … and after calling Elderwood, it was learned that those medications aren’t dispensed at the facility,” a sheriff’s report stated.

Attorney Don Chiari, a partner at Brown Chiari, said the state Health Department closed its investigation prior to receiving the final toxicology results revealing what was in the woman’s system. He says there was a controlled substance in her bloodstream.

“As expected, the family was shocked to learn that their mother was given antidepressants that were not even used at the facility, and oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller, that she had not been prescribed. That, coupled with the fact that there were signs of a sexual assault, we launched our own investigation," said Chiari, who is planning to sue the nursing home on behalf of the woman.

Denise Bothwell, executive director at Elderwood at Wheatfield, said she was not aware of any open investigations by law enforcement or the Health Department involving resident care.

"Elderwood at Wheatfield operates with a high level of integrity in all business operations, most importantly in the care and services we provide to the people we care for daily," Bothwell said.

Asphyxiation alleged in lawsuit

Within two days of arriving at a Buffalo nursing home, Audra L. Brown’s tracheotomy tube became clogged, causing respiratory distress and her “wrongful death” from asphyxiation, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of her estate.

On March 28, 2014, the 43-year-old mother of three repeatedly activated her call bell for assistance and the staff at the Waterfront Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, now called the Ellicott Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, did not respond, alleges the lawsuit filed by the law firm of Black, Lyle & Habberfield of Olean.

The lawsuit alleged the facility did not have staff “available to properly and adequately care for a patient with a tracheostomy” and failed to timely and properly suction Brown’s tracheotomy tube.

She died April 1, 2014, at Buffalo General Medical Center. Her death certificate lists acute cerebral hypoxia, reduced oxygen to the brain and acute respiratory failure as the causes of death, in addition to the tracheotomy and obesity.

A confidential settlement of the lawsuit has been reached and final approval of it is pending in State Supreme Court.

Caitlin Robin & Associates, the law firm representing the nursing home, has denied the allegations.

Medicaid fraud alleged

Nicole Robinson, who operates a national staffing agency that provides nurses, is suing four Absolut nursing homes for nearly $200,000 in unpaid bills.

In addition to the lawsuit, Robinson says she has also filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

The state covers the cost of most nursing home residents through Medicaid payments after other types of insurance benefits or personal funds are exhausted.

"If they are not reimbursing vendors and not reinvesting in patient care, where is the money going," said Robinson, who owns Quality Medical Staffing in Louisiana.

She is suing the Absolut facilities in East Aurora, Orchard Park, Gasport and Westfield. An attorney for the nursing homes has asked State Supreme Court Justice Deborah Chimes to dismiss the lawsuit.

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