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Troubled nursing home’s plan is rejected by state

Mary Meuse broke her legs on Christmas Day when she was accidentally dropped by a nursing assistant at Woodbriar Health Center. She died two days later.
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Mary Meuse broke her legs on Christmas Day when she was accidentally dropped by a nursing assistant at Woodbriar Health Center. She died two days later.

A Wilmington nursing home’s plan to correct widespread problems discovered in the wake of a patient’s death is unacceptable, state regulators said Wednesday.

Woodbriar Health Center will be given five more days to submit an acceptable plan, said Scott Zoback, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Time is running out for Woodbriar.

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Zoback said the health department will make a recommendation to federal regulators by March 22 about whether Woodbriar’s blueprint for improvements should be accepted. State inspectors will also make a surprise visit to the nursing home to see firsthand whether the facility has fixed issues surrounding communications and staff training.

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If inspectors still find problems as of April 12, federal regulators will start cutting off state and federal reimbursements to Woodbriar for new patients, Zoback said.

And if the problems persist, the state will recommend Woodbriar be terminated from the state and federal health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare.

That financial penalty would be significant, because government health insurance programs pay the bills for about 80 percent of patients in most Massachusetts nursing homes, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a facility each year.

An investigation by state authorities found a systemic breakdown in communications and care at Woodbriar, part of a chain of troubled nursing homes owned by Synergy Health Centers. The company says problems at the nursing home have been corrected.

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Synergy, the New Jersey company that owns Woodbriar and 10 other Massachusetts nursing homes, has faced mounting citations for substandard care — medication errors, poor infection control, inadequate staff training — since buying its first Massachusetts facility in 2012. The citations concerning the Woodbriar death are among the most serious.

State investigators concluded that three shifts of nurses at Woodbriar learned that 83-year-old Mary Meuse broke her legs on Christmas Day when she was accidentally dropped by a nursing assistant. But the nurses failed for 24 hours to let Meuse, or her family, know the results of X-rays.

Meuse, who was taking blood thinning medication for heart problems, was bleeding internally from her injuries. She died Dec. 27.

The investigation also found that the 21-year-old nursing assistant who had been working at Woodbriar for only a few months failed to get another nurse’s help when she used a mechanical lift to move Meuse from her bed to a wheelchair Christmas morning. Most mechanical lifts require at least two people for safe operation, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Meuse slipped out of the mechanical lift and fell to the floor, breaking both legs.

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Synergy, through a spokesman, has said the accident was an anomaly. The problems identified in the wake of Meuse’s death have been corrected, the company has said.

Synergy spokesman Raymond Howell repeated that assertion Wednesday, and said the state had accepted a company plan to fix problems at Woodbriar. He said state inspectors told Woodbriar administrators the nursing home was in “substantial compliance” by Jan. 23.

Zoback disputed that assertion, saying the health department has not accepted the company’s correction plans.

“Our inspections and final [plan of correction] review determine [when] they are in full and complete compliance,” Zoback said.

Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.