Nursing homes and senior centers have been a hot topic for the lack of accurate reporting of positive confirmed COVID-19 cases at these facilities during the initial outbreak.
One family with relatives at the Slate Valley Center in North Granville is extremely disappointed with the level of care their family members have received during the pandemic, to the point where they have contacted and requested the New York State Department of Health to conduct a private investigation for neglect.
Richard D. Ottenburgh has been treated at the Slate Valley Center for two years, and his wife Kimberly A. Ottenburgh for three years.
Kim’s daughter, Kelly Bain, and Kim’s sister, Tracy Sennett, believe the staff at the Slate Valley Center are not providing correct and proper care for both Kim and Richard, and possibly many other residents.
“Some of the care the residents are receiving is just unacceptable,” Bain said.
“I have heard it’s the way they treat their employees and nobody wants to work there anymore,” Sennett said.
NYVT Media was unable to receive a comment on the situation from an administrator from the state health department by press time.
Compliance under review
Sennett was the one who filed a complaint and received a letter on Feb. 2 from the state health department’s Centralized Complaint Intake Unit Division of Nursing Homes and ICF/IID Surveillance stating the complaint and case identification number would be transferred to the capital district regional office for review.
“It is the role of the Department’s Division of Nursing Homes and ICF/IID Surveillance to ensure that facilities are in compliance with State and/or Federal regulatory requirements, and to investigate occurrences of abuse, neglect or mistreatment,” the letter from the health department said.
“All complaints and incidents received about nursing homes are reviewed by the Department through its Centralized Complaint Intake Unit, with appropriate action taken. The immediacy of the investigation is determined through a triage process based on the seriousness of the complaint, evaluation of safety measures in place, current level of risk to all residents in the nursing home and existing department survey schedule.
“While the Department investigates potential regulatory violations, any complaint or incident reported to the Department that alleges abuse, neglect or mistreatment may also be referred to the Regional Attorney General’s Office. Complaints and incidents with allegations that fall within multiple jurisdictions are also referred to the appropriate State and/or Federal agency.
”The Department is sometimes asked by these agencies to hold its (regulatory) review as their review is conducted. All of these factors affect the timeframe for completing an investigation. As a result, DOH cannot tell you when the investigation of your complaint will start or be completed.”
Bain and Sennett informed NYVT Media staff of both Kim and Richard’s physical conditions deteriorating during their stay at Slate Valley Center over the past year.
Kim is more than 300 pounds and a diabetic with an infection in her foot that has caused discussion of a potential operation to remove her smallest toe, or possibly her whole foot due to the severity of the spread.
“My sister has not been taken out of bed in two weeks,” Sennett said. “I said, ‘Kim, you need to have them check you for bed sores.’”
When the first conversation with Bain occurred on Feb. 1, Bain said her mother, one of the then-57 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases at Slate Valley Center, had not showered in two weeks.
“My mother said they (staff) come in, they wash her front, wipe her rear-end and let her go for the day,” Bain said.
Slate Valley Center administrator Janice Doughman addressed this treatment and reasoned it with the current state of COVID-19 protocols.
“The resident in question has been provided necessary care. It is our policy, and at the recommendation of state and federal guidelines, not to take residents to shower rooms during the period they are COVID positive. Bed, baths and full-body care are provided,” Doughman said. “During a COVID positive period, at least two weeks, residents are kept in their rooms for personal care, meals, therapy, and activities.”
Kim has since recovered from COVID-19 and will now be allowed to meet in-person with a surgeon in early-March when surgeries are allowed for her infected foot.
“The doctor added that she is very pleased with the progress and the wound looks as good as it can,” Doughman said.
Richard has both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, on top of also recently having COVID-19 at the same time as his wife. He has recovered as well since the initial conversation in the beginning of February.
Bain and Sennett were frustrated over the lack of attention being shown towards Richard’s physical appearance. Pictures from April 2020, January 2021 and February 2021 show the growth of long, wild hair and a scraggly, unwanted beard.
“They’re taking the poor man’s dignity away by not giving him a shave,” Sennett said. “They can tell you what they want to tell you, but c’mon, we’re not buying it.”
Doughman provided some clarity on the issue of allowing outside providers like barbers, hairdressers and nail specialists into the facility.
“State regulations are strict concerning hairdressers coming into a facility. A hairdresser must have a COVID negative test the day they enter and they may not do the hair of COVID-positive residents. They must thoroughly clean all equipment between residents and only one resident at a time can be in the salon.
“These restrictions make it difficult for a hairdresser to service enough residents in one visit to be financially feasible,” Doughman said. “We will work with our hairdressers as the restrictions become lessened, so let me re-emphasize, it isn’t that Slate Valley Center does not allow them in, it is difficult to find licensed professionals who can and will meet all the regulations and still make a living doing so. Certified nurse’s aides are washing hair, trimming beards, shaving, and performing nail care. That is always the case and has not changed.”
Sennett said she was having a FaceTime call with Kim one day and asked where Richard was. Kim told Tracy that Richard was walking with his walker in the hallways of the Slate Valley Center without supervision. This is something Doughman said didn’t and wouldn’t happen if Richard was COVID-19-positive.
“It is mandatory that no one is roaming the hallways of Slate Valley Center since testing positive for COVID,” Doughman said. “The COVID-positive area is closed, either behind fire doors kept shut or behind heavy plastic with a zipper that is kept closed. COVID-positive residents do not leave the red zone for any reason while remaining positive.”
Doughman added weekly conference calls with anywhere from 10 to 20 family members of residents occur to give them updates on their condition.
“We agree that it is difficult to be away from family for so long and we miss the families as well. FaceTime and window visits are being utilized by many families to keep in touch and check on the well-being of their loved ones,” Doughman said.
“Families need to take advantage of what we are allowed to do within regulations to facilitate family visitation and involvement in care. Additionally as an ‘open door’ policy, Slate Valley Center has a grievance process in place. Any family member may call to express concerns or questions and we will get back with them after an investigation.
‘The facility logs these complaints to ensure we have responded to each concern. This is true for residents too and residents may lodge a formal complaint and we will respond to them following the investigation.”
Evidence to be gathered
The DOH’s letter to Sennett said that if an investigation requires it, unannounced visits to inspect practices and conduct in-person interviews at Slate Valley Center could be on the table. If wrong-doing were to be found, the DOH laid out specifically what Slate Valley Center would be responsible for producing.
“The evidence from the complaint investigation will determine whether your allegations constitute a violation of the regulations. When warranted, a Statement of Deficiencies (SOD) is issued to the nursing home requiring that a Plan of Correction (POC) be developed and implemented. The POC must identify the steps that have been or will be taken to achieve compliance with the regulations and the timeframe for doing so. The Department and CMS must approve the POC in order to allow the nursing home to continue in the State and Federal certification program,” the letter to Sennett said.
“Without sufficient and credible evidence of a regulatory violation, the case will not be sustained and closed. This does not mean that your allegations are untrue or did not occur as you reported but, rather, that they did not constitute a violation of the regulations.”
As of Feb. 11, Jeffrey Jacomowitz, director of corporate communications for the parent company, Centers Health Care, said a major decrease in confirmed positive COVID-19 cases occurred from a discussion from the previous week.
“I am very pleased to inform you that Slate Valley is down to nine positives,” Jacomowitz said. “43 residents have recovered as well…We are cautiously optimistic.”
Doughman went on to say that despite all the challenges 2020 had presented, Slate Valley Center still does it’s best to distribute the best possible care to the residents.
“All residents at Slate Valley Center receive the care required to maintain the highest possible level of physical, social, and psychological well-being. The restrictions of COVID have made delivery of this care more challenging and we have been creative using tele-health visits, FaceTime, window visits, email communications, conference calls and streaming entertainment,” Doughman said. “It is our goal to provide our residents and their families the most comfort and reassurance possible during this very unpredictable, ever-changing, challenging, and sometimes frightening time.”
Despite Doughman’s statement, Bain and Sennett say they are still worried and will continue to fight for their loved ones and others who may be treated unfairly.
“He (Richard) is paying so much for them to be there, they should be getting better care,” Bain said. “They’re (Slate Valley Center) lying. They’re telling you that they’re taking care of their residents, they’re being bathed. No, I’ve got the proof,” Sennett said. “Is it the almighty buck they’re looking for? I just don’t know.”