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Hillcrest nursing home in Pittsfield paid a $55,000 federal fine over a seven-month delay in releasing a patient's records

Hillcrest Commons (copy)

Hillcrest Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pittsfield has paid a fine as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Civil Rights Office. The agency investigated a complaint and found that a woman was not provided her son's medical records until seven months after she requested them.

PITTSFIELD — A city nursing home agreed to pay a $55,000 federal fine for not providing a woman with her son’s medical records for seven months after she had requested them.

In a resolution agreement that avoids further investigations and formal proceedings, Hillcrest Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center’s owners also agreed to an action plan to correct issues that might have led to the delay and to prevent a repeat by setting new policy.

The nursing home’s owner, Berkshire Healthcare, entered into the agreement on May 5 with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights over the records dust-up that began on March 22, 2020, when the woman, her son’s health proxy, requested her son’s records.

An investigation by the agency found that Hillcrest acknowledged the request two days later, but did not produce the documents until Oct. 10 of that year.

The delay was pandemic-related, said Lisa Gaudet, vice president of business and marketing for Berkshire Healthcare.

“An administrative error occurred at the height of COVID with no intent on anyone’s part,” Gaudet wrote in an email. “We agreed to a corrective action plan and provided HHS with updated policies and procedures to comply with HIPAA, and paid the subsequent fine.”

The agreement says Hillcrest has to develop its new rules and provide its staff with training within 60 days, then annually, and anytime a new staffer is hired.

The agency also will monitor Hillcrest to ensure compliance, the agreement states.

More than two dozen Hillcrest residents died during the first year of the pandemic. The facility was one of the hardest hit in the Berkshires.

The pandemic also revealed longstanding problems inside county nursing homes, and that understaffing long predated COVID-19 and continues today.

Regulators have fined Hillcrest a total of $265,000 since 2019 for various problems with safety and neglect, some of which may have led to a resident’s death last year. The company says it has put new policies in place to prevent such incidents in future.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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