Sweet Brook Nursing Home to close

The former owners of Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Williamstown have agreed to pay the state $110,000 to settle allegations of inadequate care. Under the terms of the agreement, they also will be barred from owning or operating any long-term care facility in Massachusetts for 10 years.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The former owners of the Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center have agreed to pay the state $110,000 to settle allegations of inadequate care.

Under the terms of the agreement, they also will be barred from owning or operating any long-term care facility in Massachusetts for 10 years, according to a news release from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.

At the time the allegations occurred, the nursing home was owned by SB Operating Co. LLC, which was owned and operated by corporate officers Alexander Sherman, Samuel Sherman, Rochelle Sherman, Zaleman Horowitz and Jeffrey Goldstein.

The former owners of the nursing home “failed to adequately meet the needs of and appropriately care for residents, and failed to ensure that nurses and certified nursing assistants had the necessary competencies to provide services for residents,” the release stated.

“All nursing home residents deserve to live in a safe environment and are entitled to receive competent and adequate care,” Healey said in the release. “Facilities that violate that right and break the trust of family members who have entrusted them with the well-being of their loved ones will be held accountable in order to protect the health and safety of nursing home residents.”

In April 2019, the state Department of Public Health notified the facility — it ranked in the bottom 1 percent of nursing homes in Massachusetts — that action was being taken against its license to operate. A federal survey detailed reports of abuse from December 2019 to February 2020.

During that time period, Sweet Brook administrators called Williamstown Police twice to report alleged sexual contact between parties with diminished mental capacity, according to police records.

On Feb. 7, 2019, one resident was found holding another resident’s hand on top of their exposed genitals, forcing that other person to sexually gratify the aggressor, according to the report. The resident who was victimized in the incident was “severely cognitively impaired” and unable to make their own decisions, according to the documents.

The aggressor was involved in several such incidents, which sparked little concern among the staff, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services survey report.

The facility had been dealing with reports of inadequate care since 2017.

“It was atrocious what happened there,” said state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams. “I’m glad they took action — it was long overdue.”

Barrett was a vocal advocate trying to get the DPH to act earlier on the violations. He said the problems traumatized patients, family members and staff. He also said the owners should be banned from operating nursing homes “for life.”

The violations included the resuscitation of a patient without consent, leaving residents in soiled diapers and unsanitary restraints for extended periods, and verbal and financial abuse of residents wishing to leave the facility.

The violations prompted the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to temporarily freeze Sweet Brook’s ability to admit new patients. That freeze was lifted in November 2017, after the facility corrected initial deficiencies and came back into compliance with federal regulations.

But, inspectors discovered additional violations when they returned in March 2018.

The Attorney General’s Office began investigating treatment of Sweet Brook residents after complaints about resident safety at the facility. Pursuant to a settlement reached between Sweet Brook and the DPH, Sweet Brook closed permanently in August 2020 and remains vacant.

From April 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2019, Sweet Brook allegedly admitted residents with violent or hypersexual behavioral tendencies without having adequately trained staff members to properly care for them, investigators found.

Sweet Brook also allegedly admitted bariatric, or obese, residents without having proper equipment and enough trained staff to meet their needs, according to the statement by the Attorney General’s Office. Further allegations show that staff failed to properly prevent the development of pressure ulcers on residents.

The statement alleges that Sweet Brook was in violation of federal and state regulations protecting residents of long-term care facilities, which constitute violations of the state consumer protection statute, as well as the state civil abuse and neglect statute.

In November 2020, Sweet Brook was sold at auction to Oxford Finance, the company that held the mortgage note on the property, for $1.5 million. At the time, it was assessed at a value of $3.1 million.

The facility has a 177-bed capacity, an elevator, two dining rooms, four nursing stations, a kitchen, commercial laundry, and intact sprinkler and security systems. SB Operating Co. purchased Sweet Brook in 2014 for $4.5 million.

Members of the public who are aware of similar practices by other nursing homes or health care providers should call the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Division at 617-963-2360 or file a complaint through DPH website.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com.

or at 413-629-4517.