Editorial: A nightmare nursing home
The Medford Multicare Center for Living fits the stereotype of the nursing home from hell. The place has an abominable 11-year record of abuse, neglect, cover-ups, health infractions, criminal convictions and multimillion-dollar paydays for the owners.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wrote a new chapter in that scandalous history last week when his office arrested seven employees in connection with the October 2012 death of Aurelia Rios, a 72-year-old resident who wasn't connected to a ventilator overnight, as ordered by her doctor. Among those arrested was a respiratory therapist accused of ignoring alarms that sounded every 15 seconds for two hours to indicate the ventilator wasn't connected, and also ignoring pager messages when the patient stopped breathing. The other six -- nurses, aides and managers -- were charged with allegedly allowing the death or covering it up. Two additional employees were charged with patient neglect unrelated to Rios.
The state Department of Health, which regulates nursing homes, should either shut down the 302-bed facility or appoint a receiver to manage it. That kind of strong enforcement is long overdue to protect vulnerable residents. And while they're at it, officials should take a microscopic look at patient care at the other nursing homes in the region where Medford's owners have a financial stake, including five on Long Island.
A lawsuit filed last week by Schneiderman against Medford's owners alleged a long history of neglect, abuse and deception.
Questionable practices first surfaced at the home in 2003, its first year in operation. Unstable staffing, poor record-keeping and inadequate nutrition led to a health department finding of "immediate jeopardy" of serious injury, impairment or death to a resident.
Rather than use resources to improve patient care, Medford's owners allegedly made deep staff and spending cuts -- reducing food supplies, medications, diapers and linens -- while lining their own pockets. They are accused in the lawsuit of corporate looting for diverting $60 million in Medicaid funds since 2003 toward profit sharing, loans, exorbitant salaries, management fees and charitable donations to their own family-run private foundations. From 2005 to 2009, 182 aides were hired without required criminal background checks. And between 2006 and 2008, abuse and neglect complaints increased tenfold.
In 2007, after the home's owners failed to correct numerous deficiencies, state officials installed a hidden camera in a bedridden patient's room and reviewed video from security cameras elsewhere in the home. The footage helped nail employees for mistreating patients and forging paperwork to cover up their abuse.
Seventeen Medford employees have been convicted of neglect and falsification of records since 2008. During that period, there were 5,000 incidents and accidents at the home, but only 60 were reported to the Department of Health as the law requires, according to the suit.
The lives of nursing home residents are in the hands of their caregivers. Families have little choice other than to trust that their vulnerable loved ones will be treated competently and compassionately. They trust state regulators to make sure that they are.
At Medford, that trust was routinely and horribly betrayed.