AG announces settlements after allegations that problems at nursing homes led to deaths
Attorney General Maura Healey announced on Wednesday settlements with seven nursing homes to resolve allegations of systemic failures that led to five residents’ deaths and several injuries.
The settlements impose fines on the nursing homes ranging from $30,000 to $200,000. Five of them will be required to upgrade staff training and policies, conduct annual audits of their progress, and report that progress to the attorney general’s office for three years.
One company, Synergy Health Centers, has been banned from operating any taxpayer-funded nursing homes in Massachusetts for seven years.
But the nursing homes cited by Healey, some of which have been sued or are facing lawsuits from families whose relatives died in the incidents, will not face prosecution by the state, according to the settlements.
Healey’s office said it weighed the evidence and determined civil enforcement was the best way to improve safety and quality in these nursing homes.
“Our resolutions cannot change what happened or ease the suffering of families, but we can help ensure these failures don’t happen again,” Healey said at a press conference. “While our settlements focus on seven facilities, we are also sending a clear message about the standards of care we expect of all facilities in our state.”
The failures identified by Healey’s office include allegations of staff ignoring serious injuries that led to two residents bleeding to death. They also include a fatal medication error, failure to treat residents with histories of substance abuse, and allowing a resident with a history of wandering to escape from a locked, supposedly secure unit.
A spokesman for the nursing home trade association who attended the press conference did not address Healey’s specific findings, but said the top priority of nursing homes is the safety and well-being of residents.
“Today’s announcement by the attorney general serves as a forceful reminder of that responsibility, and of our obligation to meet high standards and to have effective policies and training programs to further protect our residents,” said Ernie Corrigan, spokesman for the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.
Candi Hitchcock, whose mother, Betsy Crane, died in one of the cases, said she is still grieving her mother’s horrific death. Crane, a resident at Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center of Westborough, fell at least 19 times because staff failed to adequately intervene, according to the state’s settlement. She died after the 20th fall.
Hitchcock said she discovered her mother bleeding from her head hours after that fall in late July 2015. Hitchcock said she pleaded with nurses for help, and eventually one applied a Band-Aid. But the 89-year-old woman complained of not feeling well and staff eventually sent her to the hospital. By then it was too late. The internal bleeding was too great.
“She was my best friend, and our family had to watch her bleed out from head trauma over 10 days and die an unnecessarily painful death,” Hitchcock said.
The family sued and settled with the nursing home for an undisclosed amount.
Hitchcock said she welcomes Healey’s fines and oversight.
“Until they feel the pain of the error of their ways, there is not going to be any change,” Hitchcock said. “There needs to be a watchdog for people who can’t speak or help themselves.”
The settlements also include actions against Synergy Health Centers, a troubled New Jersey company that started buying Massachusetts nursing homes in 2012 and quickly ran into problems with serious patient injuries as it bought 10 more facilities.
The company, facing legal actions and mounting bills, was placed under court-ordered receivership last year, with the receiver selling off most of its nursing homes.
Healey’s settlements with Synergy include cases against two of its facilities: Woodbriar Health Center in Wilmington and Braemoor Health Center in Brockton, which has since closed.
The Woodbriar case, investigated earlier by the Globe, involves the death of Mary Meuse. The 83-year-old was accidentally dropped by a nurse’s aide on Christmas Day in 2015 and broke both her legs. A state health department investigation later concluded that staff knew about the injuries yet failed to alert Meuse or her family for 24 hours. Meuse, who was taking blood thinning medication for heart problems, was bleeding internally from her injuries. She died two days later.
David Hoey, a North Reading attorney who represents the Meuse family in a pending lawsuit against Synergy, and represented the Hitchcock family in its legal action, said fines often are not a sufficient deterrent against big nursing home companies that view the penalty as a cost of doing business.
“You will need the state to come back and make sure these operators are doing what they say they are going to do,” Hoey said.
In the other Synergy case, involving Braemoor, Healey said nursing staff failed to even try to resuscitate a resident who passed out during feeding, then failed to “timely report the death” to state regulators.
Healey’s settlement with Synergy requires the company to pay up to $200,000 in fines. It forbids the company’s two founders, Avi Lipschutz and Dov Newmark, from operating or participating in any federal or state government health care programs in Massachusetts for seven years.
The settlement also requires Lipschutz and Newmark to close or sell within nine months their two remaining nursing homes not under court receivership: Park Avenue Health Center in Arlington and New England Health Center in Sunderland.
The other nursing homes that agreed to pay fines and undergo monitoring by Healey’s office are Oxford Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center of Haverhill; Jewish Nursing Home Longmeadow; Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Everett; and Wakefield Center.
Healey’s office said half the money it collects in fines will be put toward improving safety and quality at nursing homes.