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State orders Tonawanda senior home to close after multiple citations

The State Department of Health has issued a rare emergency order to shut down a Town of Tonawanda adult care facility that has been repeatedly cited for failing to properly provide medications to residents and unsafe living conditions.

“To ensure the safety and well-being of Oakwood Senior Living residents, the Department of Health, on May 20, executed a commissioner’s emergency order, suspending the facility’s operating certificate for 60 days. Due to pending litigation, we cannot comment further,” Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said.

Residents said that they were told by Cathy Reed, administrator of the 148-bed home, that it was closing on Friday. But Reed told The Buffalo News that had been delayed.

Several residents of the facility at at 3456 Delaware Ave. told The News that there have been frequent mistakes made there in providing medication or that they have gone without medication with no explanation offered.

From 2015 through 2018, Oakwood was cited 116 times for violations governing adult care facilities, which serve individuals who need assistance but are more independent than those who require nursing home care. A total of $15,000 in fines have been levied against Oakwood since 2017.

“Oakwood has been cited repeatedly by the Department of Health for failing to ensure proper medication management in multiple areas. This includes most recently for failing to properly provide insulin management services,” said Lindsay Heckler, supervising attorney at the Center for Elder Law & Justice in Buffalo.

Brian Rosenman, a Long Island resident associated with a company that owns Oakwood Senior Living said he is fighting the state’s efforts to close the home.

“This facility is home to many low-income residents who have lived there for years. I don’t know if the residents would be able to find another place,” Rosenman said. “These residents have nothing.”

There are currently about 100 residents, according to workers at the facility.

Addressing the state’s concerns over improper administration of medications, Rosenman said he took issue with that.

“That’s their opinion. We have excellent pharmaceutical and medical services. We just installed a new sprinkler system and elevator,” Rosenman said. “It is all for the residents.”

Oakwood is being sued in State Supreme Court by a former resident who alleges the facility failed to provide him with his medication and allowed an infestation of bedbugs that repeatedly bit the man. Rosenman's company has denied his allegations in legal documents.

Heckler said Oakwood has a history of failing to provide proper medications.

“Residents who choose to reside in an adult home have the expectation that their medication needs will be properly managed. These issues are nothing new to Oakwood or the Department of Health as citations go back to 2017,” she said. “Oakwood needs to ensure every resident is receiving their medications.”

Don Bartolotti, a three-year resident at Oakwood Senior Living, on Thursday, May 30, 2019. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The State Health Department has sent at least three letters to the facility following inspections this year including one that cited an “endangerment” in reference to medication management. Numerous residents, the state determined, had not received prescription medicines “because the medications were not in the facility,” according to the records obtained by The News.

Many instances of the facility keeping inaccurate records of when insulin-dependent residents were supposed to receive shots were also cited following an inspection, according to the records. State investigators determined that controlled substance medications, usually for pain, were not properly accounted for by staff members.

“They have problems in the med room. They don’t pay technicians enough and there is a very high turnover,” said Don Bartolotti, who has lived at Oakwood for three years.

Yet he said there are many staff members who work hard to care for residents and that if supervision could be improved, “this place would fly right.”

Improper administration of medications was not the only focus in state inspections. State investigators cited piles of clothing in a resident’s room, water damage and mildew in the ceiling of the lobby of the two-story facility and the “strong permeating odor or urine” with a sticky floor in a resident’s room.

Diane Holland, who has lived at the home for 18 months, said the stench of urine in hallways is a constant that makes life difficult.

When Reed was asked about the urine odor, she said that is a problem at most facilities in the country.

Holland also said she has feared for her safety.

“Another resident beat me with a metal pail and I got four staples in my head,” Holland said. “I called the cops and had her arrested but she was back the next day. I do have an order of protection.”

Residents said some of the most difficult situations occur at night.

Diana Rose said that her roommate is incontinent and that aides are supposed to check in every four hours but that does not happen during the midnight shift.

“My roommate has to lay in her waste for hours and I have to leave the room because of the smell,” Rose said, adding that she will sometimes assist her roommate. “I’ve started playing the part of an aide and I will help her get dressed.”

Rose also cited problems with receiving medications, though she said a nurse has made sure she is properly medicated.

“To tell you the truth, I’m not surprised that they are closing. But finding a new place to live is overwhelming,” she said.

Diana Rose, a resident at Oakwood Senior Living, an adult care home in Town of Tonawanda. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

During interviews with different residents outside the facility Thursday afternoon, it became obvious that many are worried about where they will go if the state succeeds in its plans to revoke the operating license. The residents say they are also conflicted on whether the home should close.

“The Department of Health needs to ensure residents are not kept in the dark about what is going to happen with their home," Heckler said. "We encourage residents of Oakwood to contact our office to discuss their rights and potential options.”

Denise Dake, who moved to Oakwood last fall, said residents consider themselves as one big family and look out for one another.

“People like me who have anxiety issues, it’s not easy for us to pick up and go,” Dake said. “They are fixing stuff and everything will be great.”

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