In MY hometown, of all places. Think this stuff dosent happen "close to home?" Think again.
SCHAGHTICOKE — A state investigation resulted in charges against 14 former and current employees of a Rensselaer County health care facility this week, but state records show the facility has long been plagued with problems.
Documents show that from 2007-2009, the Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility in Schaghticoke had a complaint rate more than three times the state average.
There were 104 complaints about the Northwoods facility between January 2007 and December 2009, 41 percent of which were for facility-reported incidents, according to the state health department. That makes for a rate of 94.9 reports per 100 beds occupied, a rate the state determines based on daily occupancy rates to help with comparing a specific facility’s complaint experience with that of other nursing homes.
For the same time period, the statewide average rate of complaints received per 100 beds was 24.4.
The department of health investigates any allegations that a nursing home has violated federal or state regulations, or has provided inadequate care. With regards to the complaints against Northwoods between 2007 and 2009, state health officials conducted 48 on-site inspections that resulted in 30 citations, the bulk of which were in regards to quality of the care at the facility.
An updated inspection report from last month showed that Northwoods had a total of 57 deficiencies with regards to standard health and life safety code. That’s compared to the state average of 24, and of those 57, the state deemed 12 of them to be related to actual harm or immediate jeopardy.
Northwoods Health Systems, which also runs facilities in Cortland. Rensselaer and Niskayuna, was fined $6,000 last year for citations for quality of care, organization and administration, and quality assessment and assurance stemming from a Jan. 16, 2009 health department inspection of the Schaghticoke facility. That inspection found several instances of patient neglect, inadequate care and lack of proper documentation and monitoring in at least one resident’s case.
The facility was also fined $2,000 in 2008 for citations regarding quality of life and dignity stemming from a 2007 inspection. It was also fined $3,000 in 2004 for violations of residents’ rights on multiple dates, and it was fined $4,000 in 2002 for multiple violations of quality of care.
State health department records also show that between 2007 and 2009, the 120-bed facility exceeded the state and national averages for the number of patients suffering from bed sores.
Eighteen percent of high-risk patients suffered from bed sores, compared to the state average of 13 percent and the national average of 11 percent. As far as low-risk patients go, 3 percent of Northwoods residents suffered from bed sores, a slight rise above the state and national average of 2 percent.
Additionally, 27 percent of patients there for a short stay between October 2008 and September 2009 suffered bed sores, higher than the state’s 17 percent average.
The records also show that 11 percent of patients suffered from urinary tract infections from January to September 2009. The state average for this period was 8 percent, and the national average was 9 percent.
On Wednesday, 14 current and former employees at the facility were arraigned on multiple counts of neglect and falsifying business records. The charges followed a six-week video surveillance investigation by the state Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit conducted from the end of February to early April in 2009.
According to Attorney General Cuomo, a hidden camera used with an unnamed 50-year-old patient, discovered that staff “routinely failed to turn and position an immobile resident, failed to administer medications and failed to treat bed sores. The patient suffered from multiple illnesses — including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and organ brain syndrome — and was completely reliant on staffers for all personal needs, according to the charges.
Nine of the staffers were immediately suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, which covered a six-week period from the end of February to early April in 2009, according to Northwoods administrators. The alleged abuse took place before the current administration took control of the facility in July, said spokeswoman Lisa Cupolo, and the new administrators say they’ve made significant improvements since taking over.
Several relatives of former Northwoods patients said they’ve complained to the state and facility administrators about the quality of care there before but have received little response. They’ve complained of bed sores, untreated urinary tract infections, and unanswered call buttons, among other problems.
Penny Marcy of Waterford said she put her 87-year-old mother in Northwoods in May when she suffered health problems of her own, and took her out in January after becoming disgusted with what she and family members saw as a gross lack of care.
“They wouldn’t let her walk,” said Marcy. “They filled her with pills she didn’t need so she was comatose when we got to her.”
Marcy also said her mother suffered from untreated bed sores, and that administrators lied to her about her mother having a stroke that caused the loss of the use of her left side.
“A neurologist told me she hadn’t had a stroke and it was caused by the pills they were giving to her,” said Marcy, who said her complaints to then facility officials fell on deaf ears.
Marcy’s mother is now staying with her sister in Halfmoon where she’s doing much better.
“The care that the administrators provide is a disgrace,” Marcy said. “Northwoods is the worse nursing home I’ve ever been in.”
Darcy Spencer of Troy and her sisters have obtained the services of the Martin, Harding and Mazzotti law firm in investigating their claims that Northwoods staff severely neglected their 66-year-old mother and ultimately caused her death in August.
The firm is also investigating at least four other similar cases.
Spencer and her sisters also accuse Northwoods of giving their mother, Mary Ann Poppielion, wrong medications, letting her call button go unanswered for long stretches of time and failing to properly treat a urinary tract infection that eventually led her to die of septic shock.
They said they’ve reported these and other complains to state officials and have also called the attorney general’s office.
In August, federal officials barred Northwoods from receiving Medicaid or Medicare payments for new residents following complaints that workers were ignoring the buzzer system used by patients needing assistance.
That restriction was lifted within a few weeks, according to Cupolo.
The facility suffered yet another blow in January when a former nurse’s aide pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a physically helpless 78-year-old woman in late 2007 and early 2008. Robert Gundersen, 52, of Middleburgh was sentenced to 10 years of probation as part of a plea deal.
The latest charges in Schaghticoke follow the 2007 conviction of Northwoods’ former owner, Highgate LTC Management LLC, for six misdemeanor criminal charges stemming from an undercover state investigation at its Cortland facility.
A few individual employees were convicted on neglect charges in the case as well, and Highgate was ultimately barred from the long-term care business.
Jessica M. Pasko can be reached at 270-1288 or by e-mail at email@example.com.