Unable to see clearly and afflicted with dementia, Frank Mercado, 77, depended completely on the care provided by the small nursing home in the Bronx where he had lived for four years. But last Monday, as Mr. Mercado cried for help, a veteran employee beat him to the ground, where he was impaled on a sharp metal protrusion from an overturned table, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Mercado died hours after the beating, and on Monday, the Bronx district attorney’s office said the employee, Cherrylee Young, 41, had been charged with negligent homicide, fatal assault and endangering the welfare of an adult.
The death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, underscores the vulnerability of frail nursing home residents in New York State, where rates of substandard care, neglect and abuse are high, according to national studies. Advocates for elderly and disabled residents complain that state enforcement has dwindled in recent years, even as private companies have been on a buying spree, acquiring nonprofit facilities and often cutting staff to enhance profit margins.
The nursing home, University Nursing Home on Grand Avenue, is small, with only 46 beds, but it is part of a large consortium of rehabilitation and home health companies called Centers Health Care.
Kenneth Rozenberg, the consortium’s chief executive, is an owner or director of 17 nursing homes, including University. It has scored high in federal rankings, though the integrity of those rankings was called into question in a recent investigation by The New York Times, and in recent years state officials found numerous violations there.
Thomas McCartin, a spokesman for Centers Health Care, said Ms. Young, who has worked at the nursing home for 14 years, had been suspended. A lawyer for Ms. Young, Jacob Lemon-Strauss, could not be reached for comment.
Mr. McCartin said University Nursing Home had an exemplary health care history, including a five-star rating from Medicare.gov. He said the company was assisting the Police Department in its investigation but declined to comment further.
Only one-fifth of the country’s 15,000 nursing homes have received the top rating from Medicare, but The Times this year reported that the ratings rely heavily on self-reported data from nursing homes that the government does not verify, and that can be incomplete and misleading. Medicare has since made changes to its rating system, which will take effect in January.
Over the last four years, the state has found 19 life safety code deficiencies at University, compared with a statewide average of 11 over the same period. A State Health Department inspection in 2011 cited the nursing home for filthy rooms, for broken equipment — including over-the-bed meal tables — and for failing to properly report or investigate resident injuries for possible abuse.
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Death in Bronx Shows Vulnerability of State’s Nursing Home Residents