Editor’s note: This article is the second in a three-part series examining how and why New York’s nursing homes too often fail to keep their residents safe. Read the first part here.
Robert Negron, 60, has been shuttled between more nursing homes than he can remember – at least six and perhaps as many as 20 – before landing in his current bed at Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx. The instability has been wearing on Negron, a Crohn’s disease patient who uses a wheelchair and needs regular attention for an unhealed wound on his foot and chronic skin ulcers – but it’s still better than being in a homeless shelter, he would say.
“In the shelters it's dirty, it’s nasty. You could not get enough medical attention and lose a limb,” Negron said, explaining how the unsanitary conditions at the men’s shelters on Ward’s Island, over the 10 years he occasionally stayed there,put him at risk. Although he visited a clinic for care and did the best he could to change his own bandages, “There were times when my foot was really bad,” he said. A New York City Human Resources Administration spokesman said that since Negron’s stay, “substantial improvements” have been made at that shelter.
Yet nursing homes, Negron said, have forced him into city homeless shelters three times. While there, the only thing that concerned him more than the lack of medical care were the people around him.
“They victimize you,” Negron said. “The criminals and the undesirables, they prey on the homeless disabled.” Once, he said, another man assaulted him in the shelter when he refused to hold drugs for him.
Negron’s case is an extreme one, advocates for the disabled say, but he is not alone. His experience is illustrative of a long-standing practice of nursing homes placing residents into New York City’s Department of Homeless Services shelter system. These vulnerable New Yorkers often have chronic medical conditions that have improved little, advocates say, but are moved to shelters that are poorly equipped for ailing individualsand are rife with violence.
Long-term care advocates are alarmed by a sudden spike in the number of older adults who report being forced out after having received nursing home care for many months or years. Although the city keeps no official statistics on transfers from nursing homes to shelters, advocates say there is evidence that the figures are rising.
In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the city’s homeless shelter system “deplorable” and “dangerous,” citing recent news reports that show high numbers of assaults. The city has taken steps to try to address these issues, most recently opting to retrain shelter security staff in order to manage the violence.
“We are in the throes of a homelessness crisis in New York City … and we are watching people being poured into the shelters from nursing facilities,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. These often frail individuals, she said, “cannot be cared for in the shelters,” where there is no skilled nursing care and part-time clinics offer what is often the only medical aid available.
Nursing homes are required by state law to ensure all transfers are made to a safe place. For that reason, Dooha said she “cannot fathom” how nursing homes could send their residents to the city’s homeless shelters. Beyond that, Dooha said, federal protections were also being trampled.
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NYC nursing homes forcing residents into homeless shelters