Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hotel owner placed in guardianship by St. Pete Beach realtor dies from COVID-19

Genyte Dirse infected at assisted living facility

By: Adam Walser

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Last year, the I-Team first reported about a small St. Pete Beach hotel and how it was at the center of a guardianship case.

At the time, we reported how a local realtor who barely knew the elderly owner took her to court to have her placed into guardianship.

That elderly woman, Genyte Dirse, died after she acquired COVID-19 at an assisted living facility.

Dirse was honored last Friday by a small memorial service, held beside a bench where she used to sit and watch passers-by and listen to the pounding waves.

The spot is just a short walk from the small hotel which Dirse owned and where she lived for decades.

Friends and family gathered on the beach, while social distancing and wearing masks to protect themselves against the deadly virus that killed Dirse.

Genyte Dirse
“Genyte will be sorely missed both by her family and her many friends who she inspired,” said her great-nephew Gediminas Pakalnis during the memorial.

The short tribute included the reading of poems and scripture, as well as the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Pakalnis tells the I-Team Dirse was a devout Catholic who attended mass regularly before she was placed in guardianship.

Genyte Dirse died May 5 of COVID-19.

She turned 86 on May 1.

The medical examiner reported her medical history included end-stage dementia, hypertension and anemia.

In 2018, Dirse's court-appointed guardian moved her into an assisted living facility, where she was one of a dozen residents infected with COVID-19.

She ended up in guardianship after St. Pete Beach realtor Diana Sames -- who barely knew her -- asked a judge to put Dirse into guardianship, alleging her great-nephew Gedminas Pakalnis exploited her.

In December 2017, Dirse sold one of her three hotel buildings to Pakalnis for a below-market price.

We tried to reach Sames by phone and email, but she didn’t return our messages.

But when we talked to her last year, she defended her actions.

This is our original story from February 2019:

“I'm happy with the attorney that helped me file a guardianship so that Miss Genyte could have her interest taken care of,” Sames said at the time.

The case took an unexpected turn in November when Dirse's court-appointed guardian Traci Hudson was arrested and charged with a felony count of exploitation of an elderly person.

Court papers allege Hudson stole more than $500,000 from another senior under her care.

Before her arrest, Hudson had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dirse, against her great-nephew, asking the court to reverse the hotel sale.

Because of that court battle, Hudson and Dirse's new guardian would not let her great-nephew speak with Dirse, even after she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late April.

He tells the I-Team he believes guardianship could have impacted her health.

“You can’t be 100% sure about things, of course, but being in a healthy environment, near the beach, fresh air, a lot of sun, being outside, she loved being outside. She was a strong woman,” Pakalnis said.

Even though Dirse has passed away, the hotel is still at the center of that civil lawsuit against the great-nephew.

That trial has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Full Article & Source:
Hotel owner placed in guardianship by St. Pete Beach realtor dies from COVID-19

See Also:
Realtor seeks court-ordered guardianship to take away rights of elderly beach hotel owner

Greene County judge charged with judicial misconduct

Judge Farley Toothman
by Lacretia Wimbley

A Greene County judge faces charges of judicial misconduct in the handling of several criminal cases, including one in which he ordered a woman jailed for 25 days in alleged retaliation for a 2017 incident involving his law clerk.

The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board filed a 21-count complaint against President Judge Farley Toothman, who serves on the Greene County Court of Common Pleas. The complaint was filed Thursday with the state Court of Judicial Discipline.

The board accuses Judge Toothman of retaliating against a woman, Christy McCarty, who was a customer at a Sunoco gas station and convenience store near the courthouse in Waynesburg on Sept. 6, 2017, when she questioned the actions of the judge's law clerk Alexsandra Chamberlain, who was also at the station. McCarty left, the complaint said, but Chamberlain felt as though she was being accused of theft, so she confronted the store clerks.

Store employees told her they were not accusing her of anything, but stated they would have their supervisor review surveillance video later because she appeared “suspicious,” the complaint said.

The law clerk left and returned to Judge Toothman’s chambers, where she told him about the incident, according to the complaint. The complaint said the judge then went to the gas station with Chamberlain to talk to the employees, but the judge and his law clerk were asked to leave due to “harassment.”

Judge Toothman called police and had them investigate, but no charges were filed in the matter against either of the women.

The Judicial Board’s filing stated that Judge Toothman told his staff to search McCarty’s court records and ordered an immediate hearing the next day for her without prior notice in an unrelated case. At the closed-door hearing, which was held without attorneys or prosecutors present, Judge Toothman found McCarty guilty of civil contempt for allegedly violating a payment plan in connection with that case.

She was held for 25 days at the Greene County Prison, the complaint said.

In an Oct. 2, 2017 hearing, the Judicial Board complaint stated, the judge asked McCarty if she was going to be a "good girl" after her time in jail. She was released that day. No payments were made during her incarceration.

The Judicial Board also accused the judge of attempting to cover up misdeeds by having courthouse staff sign non-disclosure agreements. One such employee, a custodial worker, refused, the complaints states.

The judge could not be reached for comment on the charges but told the Observer-Reporter newspaper Thursday night that the complaint was regrettable.

“I do my best every day,” Judge Toothman said. “I respect the system and will comply with the process.”

Judge Toothman has 30 days to respond to the complaint.

If the Court of Judicial Discipline finds Judge Toothman to be guilty of any of the charges in the complaint, a hearing will be held to determine what sanction should be imposed. Sanctions include censure, suspension, fines and removal from office.

Full Article & Source:
Greene County judge charged with judicial misconduct

Coronavirus patients could be cash cows for nursing homes

Country Villa South, the only nursing home in Los Angeles County designated by the county for residents who have COVID-19.  (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
By Jack Dolan, Brittny Mejia

The nursing home industry has been devastated by the coronavirus, with outbreaks killing thousands of elderly residents and likely setting the stage for both increased regulations and huge legal liabilities.

But the health crisis presents operators with a potential financial upside.

Patients with COVID-19 could be worth more than four times what homes are able to charge for long-term residents with relatively mild health issues.

Some patient advocates and industry experts fear the premium pay available for coronavirus patients — and a simultaneous easing of regulations around transfers — could tempt some home operators to move out low-paying residents to bring in more lucrative COVID-19 patients, despite the obvious health risks to residents and staff.

“There are probably some unscrupulous operators who would jump at this,” said David Grabowski, a professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, though he thought most would not.

A new Medicare reimbursement system that went into effect last fall pays nursing homes substantially more for new patients — including those released from a hospital — particularly for the first few weeks. Under those guidelines, COVID-19 patients can bring in upward of $800 per day, according to nursing home administrators and medical directors interviewed by The Times.

By contrast, facilities collect as little as $200 per day for long-term patients with dementia, the industry experts said.

Nursing homes have always had a financial incentive to attract the short-term patients and get rid of low-paying long-term ones, Grabowski said. But the health risks for existing residents and staff are so high with COVID-19, Grabowski said, “I’d be a little suspicious of a low-quality nursing home that’s jumping to the head of the line for this.”

Health systems across the country are scrambling for safe places to quarantine nursing home residents with the coronavirus to try to protect those who haven’t already been infected. Hospitals are also desperate to reduce a bottleneck of COVID-19 patients who no longer need to be in the hospital but who are unable to care for themselves at home.

To that end, health departments have been looking to set up separate so-called “COVID-19-positive” nursing homes to help deal with the crisis.

So far, only one home in Los Angeles County has been designated COVID-19 positive by the county’s Department of Public Health: Country Villa South, an 87-bed facility in Palms. The home has already endured an outbreak, with 81 residents and staff members testing positive for the virus as of last week and 10 deaths reported to county health officials.

The home has a checkered regulatory history, earning only one star — the lowest rating possible — on Medicare’s five-star rating system. It has also had recent violations for failing to follow infection control protocols, a Times review of inspection and complaint records shows.

And Rockport Healthcare Services, the company that oversees Country Villa South and more than 70 other homes in California, was sued in March by a former employee who said she was fired for refusing to discharge patients insured through the state’s Medi-Cal program for the poor to make room for higher-paying patients with private insurance. The alleged practices occurred before the coronavirus outbreak.

In her complaint, Lidice Diaz, who was the director of business development at the Pomona Healthcare and Wellness Center, alleged that managers instructed staff to prepare a list of “dischargeable people” on a daily basis. The residents on the list, according to the complaint, were Medi-Cal patients.

“These patients often would not have a doctor’s order permitting or recommending discharge,” according to the complaint.

At other times, Diaz alleged, she was told to call a patient’s family and inform them the resident had to be discharged and to “not take no for an answer.”

Diaz and her attorney declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. Rockport’s chief executive, Dr. David Silver, said he was confident the allegations would be proved false but declined to comment on specifics of the lawsuit.

Last month, an executive at Rockport sent an email telling homes within the chain to be prepared to transfer out patients who did not require skilled nursing care to make way for a wave of “severely ill patients” expected to start arriving from acute care hospitals, which were in “dire need” of freed-up bed space.

The email informed the staff that a California Public Health Department requirement to warn residents 30 days before an impending discharge had been reduced to 10 days, and that Rockport had hired a placement agency to help find spots for residents.

“We understand it is not easy to find discharge destinations for residents who are at a low income level, but we must be proactive with our discharge planning during this difficult time,” the email said.

Silver said the email was his company’s way of responding to a warning from state officials to prepare for an expected surge of coronavirus patients.

“We agreed to do our part,” Silver wrote to The Times. “The email clearly references ensuring safe and appropriate discharges. This has absolutely nothing to do with payment rates or income levels of patients.

“We are leading the way to meet this moment,” Silver added. “No other skilled nursing facility company has stepped forward like we have.”

Rockport recently sent a letter to health insurers informing them that the company would bill $850 per day for patients with the coronavirus, according to several nursing home industry experts interviewed by The Times. Silver said that he didn’t know what letter they were referring to, and that such negotiations are typically conducted in private. But, he said, his company was prepared to offer discounted rates, and that $850 per day is about a 20% discount on what Medicare would pay.

Dr. Michael Wasserman, a former Rockport CEO, said he was shocked by the email to staff instructing them to prepare to discharge residents to make room for coronavirus patients.

“To me, from a business perspective, there’s only one reason to do this. You’re replacing the lowest-paying residents in those nursing homes with the highest-paying people,” he said.

“It’s so wrong to tell a frail old person in a nursing home that they have only 10 days to move,” Wasserman added. “Half of these people have dementia.”

When word began to spread within industry circles in mid-April that Rockport’s current management was lobbying the county to designate Country Villa South as a COVID-19-positive facility, Wasserman emailed county officials informing them of the home’s poor regulatory record and warning that sending patients with COVID-19 there “would overwhelm their capacity to care for their existing residents.”

Dr. Zachary Rubin, who works in communicable disease control for the county Public Health Department, responded to Wasserman in an email that the county’s hands were tied because “there hasn’t been a big rush of places wanting to do this.”

In his email, which was reviewed by The Times, Rubin explained the county was looking for homes that already had an outbreak so they wouldn’t introduce the virus to a facility that didn’t have infected residents and staff.

The county, Rubin wrote, was also looking for homes that belonged to a larger chain with lots of staff so there would be people available to fill in when workers at the designated facility got sick and had to stay home.

Rubin did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials declined to say whether they had reviewed Country Villa South’s regulatory history or the recent lawsuit filed against Rockport before designating it as a place for other facilities to send coronavirus patients.

In response to questions from The Times, an unnamed department official said in an email that the designation should not be seen as “an endorsement from Public Health.”

But the email acknowledged county officials were consulting with the home and ensuring that it had “optimal procedures in place for caring for COVID patients.”

That comes as a surprise to at least some people who have loved ones at the facility.

One relative of a Country Villa South resident who has tested negative for the virus said she had no idea the home had been designated a COVID-19-positive facility until a nurse assistant told her and warned that she might want to get her loved one out of there.

“That was upsetting to me to know they made the decision to turn it into a positive place without letting anyone know,” said the woman, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation against her family member.

The facility promised it would find a new home for her relative, the woman said, but as of Thursday that still hadn’t happened.

That’s particularly concerning because, even before the pandemic, Country Villa South didn’t seem to have enough hand sanitizer, and at times there was no soap in her family member’s room, said the woman, who works in healthcare.

She said she wondered why a facility that struggled with hygiene in the best of times would consider turning itself into a COVID-19-positive facility, “if it wasn’t for a paycheck.”

Full Article & Source:
Coronavirus patients could be cash cows for nursing homes

Friday, May 15, 2020

Pennsylvania AG Opens Criminal Probes Into Nursing Homes

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro attends a news conference near the White House, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018
By Mark Scolforo, Marc Levy and Michael Rubinkam

Pennsylvania's top prosecutor has opened criminal investigations into several nursing homes amid a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 2,600 residents of nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults, more than two-thirds of the state’s death toll, his office announced Tuesday.

The attorney general's office did not say how many facilities it is investigating, or reveal their names or provide any other details about the specific allegations. In general, the attorney general's office has jurisdiction in manners of criminal neglect.

“We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a written statement. “While we salute and appreciate nursing home staff on the front lines during this pandemic, we will not tolerate those who mistreat our seniors and break the law.”

He said “active criminal investigations" are underway.

Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, which represents hundreds of nonprofit nursing homes statewide, said: "We will continue to support our members, their front line workers and residents during any investigation.”

Long-term care facilities have struggled for months to contain the coronavirus. The virus has sickened about 12,000 residents of 540 nursing and personal care homes, accounting for about one-fifth of the state’s confirmed infections, according to the Health Department. The National Guard has been deployed to more than a dozen homes with severe outbreaks.

One of the worst is at Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County, near the Ohio border, where dozens of people have died and the Health Department has installed a temporary manager.

Shapiro's involvement comes as the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf — itself under fire for its management of the nursing home crisis — rolls out a plan to begin universal coronavirus testing at nursing homes and other facilities that provide elder care.

Nursing homes have long said they haven’t been able to do enough diagnostic testing to quickly identify and isolate patients and staff who have the virus. They say testing is critical because people can spread the virus without knowing they have it.

The new Health Department guidance encourages facilities where COVID-19 is already present to test all residents and staff, whether or not they have symptoms of the disease. Nursing homes without any known infections of the virus should test 20% of residents weekly, the guidance says. Testing will be required for residents returning to a nursing home from the hospital.

The health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said Tuesday that shortages of testing supplies had previously made surveillance testing at nursing homes impossible. But she said there are now sufficient numbers of tests to allow for such testing of every resident and staff member. The testing will serve as an early-warning system, she said.

“This effort will give us a clearer picture of the extent of outbreaks in nursing homes, and a head start at stopping them,” she said.

In the state Senate, senators unanimously approved legislation to direct $507 million from Pennsylvania’s $4 billion share of emergency federal aid to help nursing homes, home care services and other services for the elderly absorb coronavirus-related costs.

The House of Representatives could take up the bill as early as Thursday, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said.

Independent Sen. John Yudichak of Luzerne County welcomed universal testing but said the Wolf administration has been far too slow to act.

“While other states were ramping up testing in nursing homes and were transparent in granting access to the public about COVID-19 deaths occurring in those facilities, Pennsylvania’s nursing homes had been forgotten about in our war against COVID-19," he said in a written statement. “Nine weeks without a robust plan is far too long.”

The Health Department, meanwhile, reported more than 800 new virus infections on Tuesday, and 75 new deaths.

Overall, the virus has sickened about 58,000 people. The statewide death toll has reached 3,806.

In other Pennsylvania pandemic developments:

COVID-19 Drug

The state Department of Health said Tuesday that it has received 1,200 doses of a drug with promise in alleviating COVID-19 and is sending it to 51 hospitals in Pennsylvania.

The hospitals that will receive the first shipments of remdesivir were determined based on the number of COVID-19 patients and the severity of those patients' illnesses, the department said.

Remdesivir is given intravenously once a day for up to 10 days, the department said.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the drug after preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31%, or about four days on average, for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The drug may also help avert deaths, but that effect is not yet large enough for scientists to know for sure.

No drugs are currently FDA-approved for treating COVID-19, and remdesivir will still need formal approval. The drug does have side effects, including potential liver inflammation.

Nonetheless, the National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci has said remdesivir would become a new standard of care for severely ill COVID-19 patients.

National Guard

The Pennsylvania National Guard says some personnel are sick with COVID-19, including those who contracted the virus that causes the disease while deployed.

Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Keith Hickox said his agency has helped 13 long-term care facilities in response to the pandemic.

It’s nearly impossible to know how the Guard troops became sick, he said, describing the total number as relatively low, considering what they have been doing.

Hickox said that medical staffers have helped out at nine facilities and that training has been done at five of them. The Guard is not disclosing the list of nursing homes and similar places they have been assisting.

The effort has involved more than 180 medical workers, mostly helping with comparatively less sick residents, so the facilities’ own medical staff can focus where patients need it the most.

Others with the Guard are providing logistical help, cleaning, and training of facility staffers in the use of personal protective gear and decontamination, Hickox said.

All members are quarantined and tested when high-risk missions are completed, he said.

Full Article & Source:
Pennsylvania AG Opens Criminal Probes Into Nursing Homes

Nazareth lawyer disbarred after admitting Ponzi scheme

By Peter Hall

An Nazareth attorney who pleaded guilty last month to defrauding clients of more than $2.7 million has been disbarred. 

Todd H. Lahr, who had offices on Hamilton Street in Allentown, did not contest efforts by the state attorney disciplinary office to disbar him, according to an order filed in state Supreme Court.

Lahr, 60, pleaded guilty April 23 to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, securities fraud and wire fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 3 by U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith.

Federal prosecutors in March made public an indictment charging Lahr with persuading clients to invest in global business opportunities that didn’t exist.

Instead, the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia said, Todd Lahr raised more than $2.7 million from victims that he used to make payments to earlier investors and to pay his home mortgage, his child’s school tuition, utility bills, and other personal expenses.

Lahr told investors, who included clients of his Allentown law practice, that he and Megas would use their money to invest in business opportunities around the world, including mining companies in Papua New Guinea and properties in London and Barcelona, court records say.

According to court records, Lahr fraudulently told his investors that 100% of their money would be used for investments. He persuaded some to invest by providing promissory notes that he claimed would provide a 10% annual return on their investments. Lahr allegedly gave others shares of THL Holdings, the indictment says.

Lahr raised money from at least 20 different investors, the indictment alleges. He and a business partner also face a lawsuit from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission seeking the return of profits from the alleged scheme with interest and fines. It also seeks court orders against future violations of the federal securities laws.

Full Article & Source:
Nazareth lawyer disbarred after admitting Ponzi scheme

Coronavirus kills 500 Ohio nursing home residents in 3 weeks

The exterior front entrance to Manor Care, is seen Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Parma, Ohio. Multiple patients and employees tested positive for the coronavirus at Manor Care. Nursing homes across the country have been in lockdown for weeks under federal orders to protect their frail, elderly residents from coronavirus, but a wave of deadly outbreaks nearly every day since suggests that the measures including a ban on visits and daily health screenings of staffers either came too late or were not rigorous enough. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The number of people dying from the coronavirus in Ohio’s nursing homes has continued to increase at an alarming pace.

Close to 500 residents of long-term care centers have died in the past three weeks, according to data released by the state this week. That’s nearly double the total reported for the previous two weeks.

The increase in deaths could be attributed to a significant jump or a backlog of cases being added over the past week, said Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the state health department.

Since mid-April, more than 4,300 nursing home residents and staff members have tested positive for the virus.

The numbers, though, don’t tell the entire story of how the virus has devastated nursing homes during the pandemic because the Ohio Department of Health has only released the totals for just the past three weeks.

Before that, the state didn’t require local health departments to report nursing home deaths linked to the virus so any numbers collected before mid-April may not be accurate, Amato said Friday.

Overall, the nursing home deaths reported since April 15 account for 40% of all the virus-related deaths in Ohio since the first one was reported in mid-March.

Seven counties across the state have seen more than 30 deaths at long-term care centers in the past three weeks.

Toledo and Lucas County reported the most, 65, which doubled the number from last week. Franklin and Mahoning counties both had 46 nursing home deaths during that time.

For many nursing homes, it’s virtually impossible to keep the virus out, especially in cities where it has spread widely, said Dr. Mark Gloth, chief medical officer for Toledo-based HCR ManorCare.

Most of the buildings were never designed as hospital environments and include shared spaces meant to encourage social interaction, he said.

The mortality rate is nearly 15% among residents who’ve tested positive at the company’s nursing homes operated nationwide, Gloth said.

About half of its more than 200 long-term care centers have had residents with the virus—with some of the larger facilities recording as many as 100 cases, he said earlier this week.

The biggest frustration has been with the lack of personal protection equipment, especially gowns, and testing kits, Gloth said. “Long-term care is an after thought,” he said.

The worry now is that the shortages will increase as states are lifting orders that had stopped non-essential medical procedures, he said.

Full Article & Source:
Coronavirus kills 500 Ohio nursing home residents in 3 weeks

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Lawyer accused of stealing estate money for wife's breast implants, child support gets interim suspension

An Ohio lawyer has been placed on interim suspension after he was accused of stealing millions of dollars from a number of estates and trusts, including an estate that was intended to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended 36-year-old lawyer Brian Matthew Wiggins of Dayton, Ohio, in a May 4 order, report Law360 and the Dayton Daily News.

The disciplinary counsel’s request for a suspension and a memorandum in support of the request are here.

Wiggins was accused of spending stolen money on his wife’s breast implants, child support, a house, a boat, a Mercedes, jewelry, ATM withdrawals at casinos, and two women who accompanied him to Las Vegas. At least one of the two women was an adult dancer.

A review indicates that Wiggins has a severe addiction to gambling, alcohol, cocaine or another illegal drug, the disciplinary counsel’s memorandum says.

Wiggins is facing six ethics investigations, including two connected to criminal charges against him in a March superseding indictment, according to the disciplinary counsel’s memorandum.

The indictment charged Wiggins with 55 counts that included identity fraud, theft, aggravated theft, grand theft, money laundering, tampering with records and cocaine possession, according to earlier coverage by the Xenia Daily Gazette and the Dayton Daily News.

Prosecutors said Wiggins allegedly stole at least $2.1 million from two estates, but the disciplinary counsel’s memorandum suggested that the amount could be higher.

A review indicates that Wiggins stole more than $92,000 from the estate of Emily Kossel and more than $2.5 million from the Ronald L. Lentz revocable living trust, the memorandum said.

The Lentz trust had two main beneficiaries: The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Smile Train, a nonprofit charity that performs surgery for children with cleft lips.

A review of Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts records indicates that Wiggins’ wrongdoing could be more extensive, the disciplinary counsel’s memorandum said.

“Trying to determine the full extent of [Wiggins’] misconduct has been like trying to put together a large, complicated jigsaw puzzle,” the memorandum said. “Although [disciplinary counsel] has completed some of the puzzle, there are many, many missing pieces representing respondent’s continuing and not-yet-discovered misconduct.”

Full Article & Source:
Lawyer accused of stealing estate money for wife's breast implants, child support gets interim suspension

The State Attorney General Is Scrutinizing This Assisted Living Facility Over Its Handling of COVID-19. Some Residents Are Suing It, Too.

(Joe Singer and Katie Campbell/ProPublica)
New York Attorney General Letitia James is looking into allegations that a Queens adult care facility has failed to protect residents from the deadly coronavirus and misled families about its spread, according to two lawmakers who asked for the inquiry and a relative of a resident who spoke to an investigator with the attorney general’s office.

In a separate action Tuesday, three residents of the Queens Adult Care Center sued the facility in federal court over similar allegations.

Both developments were prompted largely by ProPublica’s recent coverage of the facility, which houses both frail elderly residents and those with mental health issues. On April 2, we reported that workers and residents at the home were becoming ill with the coronavirus as residents wandered in and out of the home without any personal protective equipment. Family members later told ProPublica the management said no residents were sick with the virus at the time.

On April 25, ProPublica published a story and a short film with the PBS series Frontline about the harrowing experience of Natasha Roland, who rescued her father in the middle of the night as he suffered coronavirus symptoms so severe he could barely breathe. Roland, in heart-wrenching detail, described how the management of the Queens Adult Care Center repeatedly assured her that her 82-year-old father, Willie Roland, was safe, even as the virus swept through the facility. She said workers were too scared to care for him, forcing his girlfriend, Annetta King-Simpson, to do so. King-Simpson later fell ill herself. Roland and King-Simpson are now suing the facility in federal court.

Video credit: Joe Singer and Katie Campbell/ProPublica

In an interview, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, whose district covers Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, said she was troubled by what ProPublica reported. She said she hoped the attorney general can determine whether the Queens Adult Care Center had broken any laws.

“It didn’t sit right with me. I thought something was off here. So I said let’s have the experts look at whether there was a crime or a civil violation,” she said. “Folks who live in this adult home deserve the same dignity as everyone else, and if their rights have been violated, someone needs to pay for that.”

Cruz said she had been suspicious of the facility for several years and had come across a community Facebook page where people posted complaints about treatment of residents at the center. When she saw the ProPublica stories, she said she decided to take action, along with City Council member Daniel Dromm, who had already written to the New York State Department of Health and the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the spread of the coronavirus in the facility on several occasions.

“The plight of those living in adult care centers during this crisis was highlighted in a recent article published by ProPublica, which focused on the perils faced by the residents at the Queens Adult Day Care Center,” the lawmakers wrote in their April 27 letter to the attorney general and the governor’s office. “Failure to inform families about the health of loved ones, to lying and covering up deaths have become regular concerns we have received. We are aware that adult care centers are struggling to keep COVID-19 from affecting their residents and we also know that minorities have been disproportionately affected by the virus. It seems to us that management at this particular center have struggled to implement procedures and policies to protect the lives of its residents.”

Cruz said she received an update from the attorney general’s office on May 5, saying it was looking into the matter but would not provide specific details.

Days after the lawmakers sent the letter, Natasha Roland, 35, said she received a phone call from an investigator with the attorney general’s office. Roland said she recapped what she had previously told ProPublica: She began to worry about her father’s safety when nearby Elmhurst Hospital became a viral hot spot, but the management repeatedly told her there were no coronavirus cases in the facility. She said she only found out the truth weeks later when a worker she was friendly with advised her to come and pick up her father because the virus was raging through the facility and aides were becoming too scared to check on residents. In a subsequent interview, that worker denied telling Roland to pick up her dad.

A spokesperson for the attorney general would not confirm or deny a specific, active investigation into the Queens Adult Care Center, but said James has received hundreds of complaints related to COVID-19 inside nursing homes and adult care facilities across the state and is investigating many of them.

For its part, the Queens Adult Care Center has denied any wrongdoing and repeated its belief that Roland’s allegations are “baseless.”

“Sadly, select elected officials and ProPublica have been intentionally misled with baseless assertions and utter fabrications crafted by the daughter of one of our long-term residents,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a crisis communications spokesperson hired by the facility. “We have strong reason to believe that this individual is seeking to use her father and other select residents as pawns in an attempt to extort the facility. We are considering our legal options.”

He said the facility has “worked tirelessly” to protect its residents and is unaware of a “potential investigation,” but understood that “the AG’s office has contacted many nursing homes, adult care, and assisted living facilities seeking information. We are glad to be a resource to the AG’s office and have nothing to hide.”

Bruce Schoengood’s 61-year-old brother, Bryan, lives in the facility and shared a room with one of the first residents to become infected with COVID-19 and subsequently die of the disease. Bruce told ProPublica he only learned that his brother’s roommate had died by happenstance during a casual conversation with his brother, and that he has complained for more than a month about a lack of communication from the facility. He said he had not yet heard from anyone with the attorney general’s office but would welcome such a conversation.

In the meantime, Bryan Schoengood, Willie Roland and King-Simpson are suing the facility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a 59-page complaint, the group has asked a federal judge to appoint a special master to oversee the facility at the home’s expense to ensure that residents there are safe.

The lawsuit argues that residents have experienced a “gross failure to provide the most basic level of care to safeguard their health and safety in the context of a global health pandemic. People with disabilities are exposed to high risks of contracting the virus with no or few preventative measures in place. Residents who fall sick are left to languish in their room without proper access to medical care.”

The lawsuit claims that because the facility has failed to follow state and federal guidelines, “COVID-19 is rampant in the facility among residents and staff alike.”

Alan Fuchsberg is the Manhattan-based personal injury and civil rights attorney representing the three Queens Adult Care Center residents.

In an interview, he said that the facility may not have the resources to properly follow the guidelines, which is why a special master should be assigned to work with a team of outside experts to make sure it can.

“Right now the residents are in a tinderbox,” he said. “And if you drop a match in there, all hell breaks loose. It should be run right. We don’t need dozens of people dying in all our nursing homes and adult care facilities. Some are running better than others and QACC sounds like a place that is not run up to standards.”

He and Bruce Schoengood pointed out that they are not currently suing for damages, but rather to persuade a court to immediately intervene and offer support to the facility’s roughly 350 residents.
Schoengood said the goals of the lawsuit are twofold.

“I think it is both short term and long term,” he said. “Immediate intervention to put proper protocols in place to treat the sick and stop the spread of coronavirus and to communicate with family members. And in the long term I would like to see this facility much better prepared to handle another pandemic or a second wave.”

Responding to the charges in the lawsuit, Sheinkopf again said that “the allegations are baseless and utter fabrications. Queens Adult Care Center (QACC) continues to meet all state issued guidelines.”

Full Article & Source:
The State Attorney General Is Scrutinizing This Assisted Living Facility Over Its Handling of COVID-19. Some Residents Are Suing It, Too.

‘Recovery and victory’: Nursing home celebrates 92 residents recovering from COVID-19 and no new cases

JACKSON, Ga. (Jackson Progress-Argus ) — While the latest numbers from the Department of Community Health show 121 residents at Westbury Medical and Rehab in Jackson have tested positive for COVID-19, with 21 residents having passed away, what the numbers don’t show is that of the remaining 100 positive cases, 92 of them have recovered from the virus, plus Westbury does not have any new cases.

Westbury patients and staff celebrated the recovery of three of their residents on May 7 with photos and signs outside the entrance, and plan a parade of families and friends of residents on May 14.

“We had a total of 121 positive, but 21 of those passed away,” said Westbury Administrator Jennifer Vasil. “Our prayers are still with the families that have lost a loved one from this vicious virus.

“Of the remaining 100, 92 residents have recovered and 8 residents remain symptomatic,” she continued. “We are doing everything in our power to assist the ones who are still sick.”

Vasil added that the residents who have recovered remain in quarantine from residents who have tested negative for the virus.

“We’ll keep it this way for a while,” she said, “mainly because there are still so many unknowns with this virus, so we want to keep our negative residents as safe as possible.”

In addition, a total of 52 staff members were tested for the virus and 32 tested positive. Of those 32, 17 have recovered and returned to work after fulfilling the CDC directives, or remain out of work.
Vasil admits the past six weeks since the virus was first found in Westbury have been tough for the residents, their families, and the staff, and having a chance to celebrate the recoveries put a smile on everyone’s faces (behind the masks).

“We celebrated recovery and victory over COVID-19 with three of our residents today,” Vasil said in a Facebook post. “We cannot wait to continue the celebration of many more residents with a parade next week!”

May 10-16 is National Skilled Nursing Care Week, and to celebrate the residents who have recovered, Westbury will be having a family and community parade for all residents on May 14.

“We ask that you decorate your vehicle with signs/posters, etc. for your loved one or decorate showing support/thanks for the facility,” Vasil wrote. “The parade will be broken up into 3 different parades depending on the hall that your loved one is on. We ask that anyone participating call the facility and speak with the Activity Director and let her know by 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 13. At this time, the Activity Director will let you know what time your loved one will be outside for the parade, depending on their hall location.

“Some residents may not feel like participating, or may be unable to participate due to health concerns. If this is the case, we will let you know ahead of time if you are signed up to participate. All residents will have to wear an N95 mask in order to participate. If your loved one is unwilling to wear a mask or unable to wear one, they will be unable to participate in the parade.”

Vasil also thanked her staff for their efforts and Butts County community for their support during this crisis

“Our staff love our residents, are dedicated to the care we provide, and are true healthcare heroes,” she wrote. “Our small community of Butts County has reached out in many ways to uplift and assist as we fight this tough fight and we are endlessly thankful for the support of our local community. We truly appreciate your continued prayers, support, kind words, and thoughts as we battle this invisible virus together.”

Full Article & Source:
‘Recovery and victory’: Nursing home celebrates 92 residents recovering from COVID-19 and no new cases

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Trained observers will watch probate cases involving elders


LANSING — Michigan’s Elder Abuse Task Force may begin working with law students in a developing effort to ensure fair treatment for elders in probate court.

The task force’s main goal is to tackle less-recognized issues including physical and emotional abuse, financial exploitation and neglect of elders. Attorney Gen. Dana Nessel established it with support from the state Supreme Court and Legislature. As one of its goals for this year, the task force is looking to create a volunteer program of court watchers to monitor cases.

The program would place volunteers in hearings concerning petitions for guardianship and conservatorship. Such cases determine whether parties are fit to look after an adult ward’s health care and other needs and their capability to handle the ward’s finances.

“Basically, we’re trying to make sure that probate judges are treating everyone fairly and that they’re giving everyone a chance to say their piece in courts,” said Mark Hornbeck, the associate director for communications of AARP Michigan, one of the task force’s member organizations.

Hornbeck said the task force is working on a form that court watchers could use to record their observations about the hearings, which would then be submitted to the attorney general’s office for review to determine if any actions need to be taken.

Rather than asking court watchers to make judgments about what they observed, Hornbeck said the forms would act as a snapshot of courtroom events.

Court watchers would check that all interested parties were given a chance to speak, note if the ward was present or represented by counsel and see if there were any noticeable language barriers that were unaddressed or any other signs of concern.

Potential participants would include law school students and volunteers from AARP and other organizations.

They would be trained, but specifics concerning the training curriculum are still in development.

While the program would be a first for Michigan probate courts, it wouldn’t be the first of its kind in the state.

In 2004, Renee Beeker of Milford founded the National Family Court Watch Project as a way to collect data on problems with family courts.

“There were a lot of complaints, but there didn’t seem to be a whole lot anybody could do,” Beeker said.

The initial program followed court cases in Michigan, California, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, according to the project’s website.

Beeker trained volunteers and created a seven-page instrument for gathering data in the courts. Early volunteers were paraprofessionals with no prior experience in family courts, and it later expanded through work with university intern programs.

Despite that project’s success, Beeker said the biggest challenges with continuing volunteer court watch programs are maintaining volunteers and funding.

“This is a huge job — there’s nothing little about this work. Anybody who is trying to put together a program finds out that there’s more to it than meets the eye,” she said.

Screening volunteers is another concern for court watcher programs.

AARP’s Hornbeck said, “We don’t want people with an ax to grind sitting there, keeping tabs on judges that they may have a case in front of or have some past decision that they’re angry about. We’re not interested in getting those folks in the court watchers program, so there will be some vetting involved.”

Beeker’s program took similar precautions and also asked student volunteers to write a first-impression paper about family courts to determine which applicants may hold a bias.

Despite similarities between the two programs, Beeker expressed concerns about the lack of involvement of everyday people with personal experience in these matters.

“Those involved who are professionals have their view from their professional standpoint, but they haven’t lived it necessarily,” she said.

The COVID-19 epidemic has placed development of the probate court watchers program on hold, but the attorney general’s office says the task force plans to issue another newsletter soon detailing the task force’s progress. It will be available on the attorney general’s website under the Elder Abuse Task Force initiative.

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Trained observers will watch probate cases involving elders

Former attorney accused of sexually assaulting, stalking clients


A former attorney and judge is accused of sexually assaulting a clients and stalking them.

Greg Knudsen, a former attorney and Torrington Municipal judge, had been charged on March 31 with 10 counts in Goshen County Circuit Court.  Laramie County Judge Thomas Lee is presiding over the case. Knudsen is next scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing set for May 21, at 2:30 p.m., to see if there is enough evidence for the case to move forward to district court.

Special prosecuting attorney for the case is Kevin Taheri for the Eighth Judicial District Court.

Knudsen, who had a private law practice in Torrington before he had been disbarred in July 2019, is charged with three third-degree sexual felony counts of assaulting women in his office and a felony count for burglary. Along with the felonies, Knudsen is charged with six misdemeanor counts, five stalking and one unlawful contact.

Prosecutors accuse Knudsen of sexually assaulting and stalking four different women, with allegations starting in August 2012 to as recent as August 2018. He has also been charged with assaulting one of the women on Oct. 25, 2017, accused of using “sufficient physical force to cause injury. He is accused of burglarizing the home of another woman, allegedly entering her home with the intent of committing sexual assault.

Knudsen has not been practicing law since the Wyoming Supreme Court issued an order disbarring him, effective July 15, 2019. The order of disbarment stemmed from Knudsen’s conduct in entering into a sexual relationship with a client that had been described as consensual; failing to withdraw from the client’s representation promptly upon entering into the sexual relationship; advising the client to conceal evidence of the relationship in the legal proceeding; and knowingly making a false statement of material fact to Bar Counsel regarding the existence of the sexual relationship after a complaint was filed with the Wyoming State Bar.

Knudsen agreed to the disbarment, which was recommended to the Supreme Court by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Wyoming State Bar. He was ordered to pay an administrative fee in the amount of $750 and costs of $50 to the Wyoming State Bar.

Full Article & Source: 
Former attorney accused of sexually assaulting, stalking clients

Wisconsin Attorney General launches new elder abuse hotline

MADISON, Wis. (WEAU)-- The Wisconsin Attorney General's office is announcing a new tool to protect seniors in the state. 

A new toll-free Wisconsin Elder Abuse Hotline will allow people to report elder abuse. It also provides resources to educate people about what to look for when it comes to this kind of abuse.

Elder abuse can occur in a variety of formats including financial exploitation, physical abuse or neglect.

Attorney General Josh Kaul says elder abuse is on the rise in Wisconsin and it often goes unreported. He says he hopes this hotline will encourage more people to report when elder abuse is happening as prevention is key.

"The more people become educated about these scams and we know the steps to take to prevent them from happening, the safer that seniors and all Wisconsinites will be," Kaul says.

Kaul says the hotline is especially essential as many Wisconsinites are spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and could be more susceptible to elder abuse.

"With people staying safer at home, people are having fewer contact with family and friends so it may be difficult to spot elder abuse so a report that may have happened isn’t happening now," Kaul says.

He says people should also be cautious of suspicious phone calls as the COVID-19 pandemic is leading scammers to pretend to be government officials and even offer fake cures.

Kaul recommends people continue to check in on elderly neighbors and relatives and look out for signs of abuse and neglect.

People can call the toll-free hotline at 1-833-586-0107 or to access the online portal, click here.

Full Article & Source:
Wisconsin Attorney General launches new elder abuse hotline

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Florida nursing home deaths from COVID-19 spike dramatically: up to 22 at a single home

By Kevin G. Hall and Ben Wieder

Florida health officials released stark new data late Friday showing that deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities appear to have accounted for 60 percent of the deaths in Florida this past week from COVID-19.

The Florida Department of Health reported a total of 665 deaths from COVID-19 at such facilities, an increase of 242 deaths from last week’s report.

In the same time period, the state’s overall toll increased by 401 deaths.

The state first released data detailing deaths in long-term care facilities last week under pressure from the Miami Herald and other news organizations, who filed a lawsuit over denial of public records. As with last week’s data, the report raised a number of questions. For instance, there were eight facilities on the newly updated list of long-term care deaths then that didn’t appear on a list of homes with COVID-19 cases — as opposed to deaths — released earlier in the day.

Read more here:

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To date, patients and staff at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care providers have accounted for four out every 10 deaths in the state from COVID-19.

The Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation & Nursing Services home in Seminole has accounted for the most deaths in the state — 22 residents and one staff member.

Three other nursing homes — the Braden River Rehabilitation Center in Bradenton, the Highlands Lake Center in Lakeland and the Suwannee Health and Rehabilitation Center in Live Oak — each had 18 deaths.

In South Florida, the Manor Pines Convalescent Center in Wilton Manor had the most deaths with 16, all residents.

Overall, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties accounted for nearly half of the deaths in long-term care facilities in the state.  (Click to continue reading)

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Florida nursing home deaths from COVID-19 spike dramatically: up to 22 at a single home

Thomas Lagan, ex-judge crony who bilked elderly, denied release from prison

Former business partner of disgraced Guildlerland town justice Richard Sherwood asked out amid coronavirus worries
By Robert Gavin

Thomas Lagan is brought into City Court by police officers after being arrested on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 in Albany, N.Y. (Brendan Lyons/Times Union)
ALBANY – Last September, disgraced ex-attorney and financial advisor Thomas Lagan maneuvered his way into serving his prison sentence in federal as opposed to state prison.

On Monday, the 62-year-old former Slingerlands man was far less successful in his bid to serve some or all of  his prison time at home to avoid the risk of COVID-19.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn rejected Lagan’s request for home confinement and ankle monitoring. Lagan, the former business partner and co-defendant of disbarred Guilderland Town Justice Richard Sherwood, will continue to serve his 6½-year sentence in federal prison for ripping off nearly $12 million from elderly clients.

Lagan had hoped to serve his time where he most recently lived in Cooperstown.

“The court is sympathetic to Lagan’s situation, and does not wish him — or anybody else — to get sick while in prison, but it cannot release Lagan merely upon his own assertion that he is at high risk,” Kahn stated in his decision.

Lagan, who stole from clients and laundered the money, pleaded guilty in 2019 in both Albany County Court and U.S. District Court in Albany for his crime. Lagan targeted elderly clients, including Capital Region philanthropists Warren and Pauline Bruggeman, as well as beneficiaries of his former clients, and churches and charities.

In August, he pleaded guilty in federal court to federal money laundering conspiracy and filing false tax returns. In September — one day before his sentencing in state court on charges of first-degree grand larceny — Lagan surrendered himself to the U.S. Marshal Service. By doing that, Lagan assured himself that he would do his time (or at least a large portion of it) in the federal system and not state prison. His lawyer, Kevin Luibrand, told the Times Union “state prison is a much easier venue to get oneself seriously injured or worse, and so we try to avoid that if and when we can."

In December, Lagan was sentenced to his prison term, which he was serving in the Metroplitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. It would go alongside the 4-to-12 year sentence he received in state court from state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Breslin.

On April 15, Lagan's Boston-based attorney John J.E. Markham II filed a request with Kahn for compassionate release. He asked for either interim release to his home until a more suitable facility was available, full home confinement or full home confinement unless the U.S. Bureau of Prisons allows a furlough.

"He never would have self-surrendered had he known he would end up in New York City and the MDC, particularly not when New York is the epicenter of the killer virus that now threatens him in the cramped, over-crowded conditions in which he is now imprisoned," the motion stated. "Had he not self-surrendered, this Court would almost surely have allowed him to self-surrender to the facility once it was designated as is the practice for non-violent, non-risk-of flight defendant."

He argued he had "medical conditions that are chronic and make him more vulnerable to COVID-19 than healthy individuals." He noted his age, weight, family history of heart disease, sleep apnea and that he was a heavy smoker and drinker.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barnett noted in a filing that none of the reasons mentioned by Lagan are on the list of high-risk conditions listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Lagan, in fact, is a healthy person without any particularized vulnerability," Barnett stated.

He argued that if the motion was granted, Lagan should have been sent to state custody.

Full Article & Source:
Thomas Lagan, ex-judge crony who bilked elderly, denied release from prison

Banned from nursing homes, families need to know if their loves ones are safe

Click to Watch Video
By Judith Graham

(Kaiser Health News)Families are beset by fear and anxiety as Covid-19 makes inroads at nursing homes across the country, threatening the lives of vulnerable older adults.

Alarmingly more than 10,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities have died from Covid infections, according to an April 23 analysis of state data by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But often facilities won't disclose how many residents and employees are infected with the coronavirus that causes the disease, citing privacy considerations. Unable to visit, families can't see for themselves how loved ones are doing.
Are people getting enough to eat? How are their spirits? Are they stable physically or declining? Are staff shortages developing as health aides become sick?
Perhaps most pressing, does a loved one have Covid symptoms? Is testing available? If infected, is he or she getting adequate care?
"This is the problem we're all facing right now: If you have family in these facilities, how do you know they're in danger or not?" Jorge Zamanillo told the Miami Herald after his 90-year-old mother, Rosa, died of Covid-19 only days after staffers said she was "fine."
In recent weeks, amid mounting concern, states including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York began releasing data about cases and deaths in individual nursing homes. (The data varies by state.) And the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it would require homes to report cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to notify residents and families. (Previously, facilities were required to report only to states.)
Families' worst fears have been expressed in recent headlines, including a New York Times story that described "body bags piled up" behind a New Jersey nursing home where 70 residents had perished. Another investigation called nursing homes "death pits" and reported that at least 7,000 residents across the nation had died of Covid-19 — about 20% of all deaths reported at the time, April 17.
What can families do? I asked nearly a dozen long-term care advocates and experts for advice. They cautioned that the problems — lapses in infection control and inadequate staffing foremost among them — require a strong response from regulators and lawmakers.
"The awful truth is families have no control over what's happening and not nearly enough is being done to keep people safe," said Michael Dark, a staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
Still, experts had several suggestions that may help:

Stay in touch

With virtually all visitors barred from nursing homes since mid-March, frequent contact with loved ones via telephone calls or video visits has become even more important. In addition to providing much-needed emotional support, it signals to staffers that family members are vigilant.
"When a facility knows someone is watching, those residents get better care," said Daniel Ross, senior staff attorney at Mobilization for Justice, a legal aid agency in New York City. "Obviously, the ban of visitors is a real problem, but it doesn't make family oversight impossible."
If a resident has difficulty initiating contact (this can be true for people who have poor fine-motor coordination, impaired eyesight or hearing, or dementia), he or she will need help from an aide. That can be problematic, though, with staff shortages and other tasks being given higher priority.
Scheduling a time for a call, a video chat or a "window visit" may make it easier, suggested Mairead Painter, Connecticut's long-term care ombudsman.
Advocacy group AARP is pressing for Congress to require nursing homes to offer video visitation and to provide federal funding for the needed technologies. If you can afford to do so, buy a tablet for your loved one or organize a group of families to buy several.

Band together

More than likely, other families have similar concerns and need for information. Reach out through email chains or telephone trees, suggested Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition in New York City.
Ask your nursing home administrator to update families weekly through a conference call or Zoom video chat. Explain that families will probably call less often with repetitive questions if communication is coordinated.
Many nursing homes have family councils that advocate for residents, and they're potentially valuable conduits for support and information. Your long-term care ombudsman or administrator can tell you if a council exists at your facility.
Working with a group can reduce the fear that complaining will provoke retaliation — a common concern among families.
"It's one thing to hear 'Mrs. Jones' daughter is making a big deal of this' and another to hear that families of 'everyone on the second floor have noted there's no staff there,'" Ross said.

Contact ombudsmen

Every state has a long-term care ombudsman responsible for advocating for nursing home residents, addressing complaints and trying to solve problems. While these experts currently are not allowed to visit facilities, they're working at a distance in this time of crisis. To find your ombudsman, go to The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care's site.
Twice a week, Painter holds an hourlong question-and-answer session on the Connecticut Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program's Facebook page. Among dozens of questions that people asked last week: What kind of communication can I expect when a family member is Covid-positive and in isolation? What's the protocol for testing, and are homes out of test kits? Could families get a robocall if a resident died?
One person wondered whether installing cameras in residents' rooms were an option. This practice is legal in eight states, but facilities may consider this elsewhere on a case-by-case basis. A fact sheet from The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care lays out the pros and cons.
"Most of what we do is trying to work out better communication," Painter said. "When there are staffing issues, as there are now, that's the first thing that falls off."

Lodge a complaint

Usually, Painter advises families to take concerns to a nurse or administrator rather than stew in silence. "Tell the story of what's going on with the resident," she said. "Identify exactly what the person's needs are and why they need to be addressed."
If you think a family member is being ignored, talk to the director of nurses and ask for a care plan meeting. "Whenever there's a change in someone's condition, there's a requirement that a care plan meeting be convened, and that remains in effect," said Eric Carlson, a directing attorney with Justice in Aging, a legal advocacy organization.
If that doesn't work, go "up the facility's chain of command" and contact the corporate office or board of directors, said Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy at The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.
If you're getting nowhere, file a complaint with the agency that oversees nursing homes in your state. (You can refer to this directory from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing homes.) This is a formality at the moment, since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has temporarily released agencies from the obligation to investigate most complaints. Still, "there may come a day when you'll want a written record of this kind," Dark advised.
Complaints that are getting attention from regulators involve "immediate jeopardy": the prospect of serious harm, injury, impairment or death to a resident. "If you believe your concern rises to that level, make sure to indicate that," The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care advised.
Also, contact local, state and national public officials and insist they provide Covid-19 tests and personal protective equipment to nursing homes. "Calls, letters — the lives of your loved ones depend on it," said Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine.

Bring a relative home

Some nursing homes are asking families to take loved ones out of their facilities and bring them home. Every day, all day, Dark said, he gets calls from California families in this situation who are distraught and terrified.
Families need to think through these decisions carefully, said Dr. Joanne Lynn, policy analyst of the program to improve eldercare at Altarum Institute, a research organization. What if their loved one becomes ill? Will they be able to provide care? If their relative has dementia or serious disabilities, can they handle the demands such conditions entail?
Researchers in Ottawa, Canada, have developed a useful decision aid for families, available from The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. (Americans can ignore the Canada-specific information.)
At the very least, "get plans in place in case your relative has a bad [Covid-19] case. People can go from stable to serious illness within hours in many cases," Lynn said.
This involves updating advance directives, including whether your loved one would want cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, transfer to the hospital in the event of a life-threatening health crisis or hospice care, should that be indicated.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Banned from nursing homes, families need to know if their loves ones are safe