SANDISFIELD — The Sandisfield nursing home flagged for sanitary violations last year continues to make repairs and has hired a new director of dining, three months after a local health official found its kitchen to be filthy during a Nov. 19 inspection and ordered it to stop preparing food.
But the facility remains under close watch by Health Agent Jayne Smith, amid concerns that its septic system is damaged.
Berkshire Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center, off Sandisfield Road, cares for veterans and is owned by Athena Health Care Systems.
Smith has re-inspected the center and said she will be returning for another look in the coming weeks. Smith’s November inspection reports, obtained by The Eagle through a public records request, reveal that Smith did not know that residents at Berkshire Rehabilitation were exposed to unsanitary conditions for at least several months before she went to inspect the facility.
Smith’s report says the facility’s kitchen did not have hot water for cleaning dishes, washing hands and cleaning laundry and sanitizing mops since “at least August.” It cites a variety of thick grease and dirt buildup as well as other health hazards that posed “an immediate risk” to residents.
Dirty water was backing up into the kitchen area from a clogged grease trap.
The nursing home had been cited in August by the state Department of Public Health for related issues, but did not relay this to Smith.
After Smith’s order not prepare food in the kitchen and correct the issues, the nursing home fixed the problems and installed a new hot water boiler right after Smith’s Nov. 19 inspection.
Smith said the center faces a septic problem. Pipes in the facility’s leach field are “crushed,” she said, and might be creating problems.
The company is repairing the septic’s distribution box, according to Savannah Ragali, Athena’s director of marketing and communications. She wrote in an email that the system “is functioning properly.”
Ragali also said that the company hired a new director of dining services as well as professional cleaners. She said the kitchen “is on a meticulous cleaning schedule, as well as completed daily audits for the grease traps and a monthly clean out.”
State Department of Public Health inspectors had been to the facility in August and found various problems. But until her November inspection, Smith didn’t know there was no hot water, or that the DPH had instructed staff to boil water for mopping and other cleaning.
Smith later sent her report to the DPH by email, hand-delivery, certified and first-class mail. But upon follow-up, Smith found that DPH officials were unaware of her specific findings.
“They knew there had been some issues but didn’t know what the issues were,” Smith said. “That lack of communication is an issue. There should be a mechanism — but there is none.”
The Eagle asked the DPH if there is a problem with agencies not sharing information. A DPH spokesperson wrote in an email that the agency “is not aware of any gaps in communication.” The agency does communicate with local officials during a nursing home’s recertification or amid investigations initiated following a complaint, the spokesperson said.
Smith wrote in her initial inspection that she found a variety of health concerns in the nursing home. They included issues with the storage of raw meat, the fact that a plumbing sludge snake was stored near other kitchen items and that the facility had “sewage” backing up on the floor in the dishwashing area.
Smith said she later realized that what appeared to be sewage was wastewater that was congealing in an uncleaned grease trap — and not raw sewage from toilets. It was not being cleaned up, Smith noted.
In another note, Smith found “wastewater/sewage seeping up through floor in dishwashing room. Heavy buildup observed on slip mat and floor … ongoing biological [matter] on bottom, indicating ongoing issues over a period of time.”
Smith ordered the facility to stop preparing food in the kitchen and to use disposable dinnerware. Several days later the kitchen was professionally cleaned — as well as the grease trap that was the apparent culprit in the water backup.
A Dec. 5 re-inspection revealed one problem — that the dishwasher wasn’t “pulling sanitizer.” It “seems to have lost vacuum/suction,” Smith wrote. Staff said they would call corporate headquarters to have it serviced.
It appears the company is addressing the septic problems. The Eagle requested the septic inspector’s report from Town Hall, but was told it has not yet been submitted. It also has not yet been provided to Smith, who was present at the septic inspection. The septic inspector did not respond to an inquiry.
Athena and its Massachusetts limited liability corporation leases the Sandisfield facility from Berkshire Landlord LLC. Athena’s owner, Lawrence Santilli, is listed as a manager on the LLC’s corporate filing.