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Editorial: Fix it or close it

The State Department of Health, which recently issued a rare emergency order to shut down a Town of Tonawanda adult care facility – a directive that is being contested – must act quickly in resolving the problems at Oakwood Senior Living, if necessary by finding other accommodations for its residents. Conditions there are intolerable.

The allegations include unsanitary conditions, short staffing and fears for safety.

For Diane Holland, the stench of urine in the hallways is a constant. She has lived at the home for 18 months.

Another resident, Diana Rose, said she has acted as surrogate staff for an incontinent roommate. Other residents have complained about not receiving their medications.

News staff reporter Lou Michel has documented numerous cases of alleged neglect by nursing homes. In the case of Oakwood, state officials issued 116 citations from 2015 through 2018 for violations “governing adult care facilities, which serve individuals who need assistance but are more independent than those who require nursing home care.” The notices have added up to $15,000 in fines against Oakwood since 2017.

The commissioner’s emergency order issued May 20, which suspended the facility’s operating certificate for 60 days, is just the latest action against the nursing home, but it’s under review.

In short order, owner Kenwell Gardens LLC sought an injunction to block the state from shutting down the facility. Brian Rosenman, who is associated with Kenwell, in a follow-up newspaper article said the distribution of medication to residents has been corrected through several measures, including the hiring of a new pharmaceutical employee. Many of the 102 residents suffer from mental illness, Rosenman said, assuring Kenwell’s ability to provide a “nurturing, stable and familiar environment for these residents.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.

Oakwood is being sued in State Supreme Court by a former resident who alleged the facility failed to give him medication and also allowed an infestation of bedbugs that repeatedly bit him. Facility owners have denied the man’s allegations in legal documents. Lindsay Heckler, supervising attorney at the Center for Elder Law & Justice in Buffalo, contends that Oakwood has a history of failing to provide proper medications.

Also troubling is that the Health Department has sent at least three letters to Oakwood following inspections just this year, including one citing an “endangerment” related to management of medications. There were also questions surrounding the accuracy of records in cases of injection schedules for residents needing insulin. State investigators also determined that controlled-substance medications usually distributed for pain were not properly accounted for by staff.

Add to that investigators’ observations of “piles of clothing in a resident’s room, water damage and mildew” in the lobby ceiling, and the “strong permeating odor of urine” with a sticky floor in a resident’s room.

Rosenman, in stating concern about where longtime residents of the facility would go if the facility shut down, said many of them are low-income and doubted they would be able “to find another place,” adding, “These residents have nothing.”

It would be a good point — unless any or all of the allegations are true. In that case, state officials, assisted by Oakwood if Oakwood is determined to be at fault, should put significant effort toward finding these residents a decent place to live. Indeed, the state should have an active list of vacancies for just such a purpose.

No one should have to live with a persistent smell of urine.

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