Before administrative magistrate, attorney cites positive changes at Sweet Brook

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MALDEN — Staff morale has improved significantly since a temporary management company arrived at Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in August, an attorney for the facility told an administrative magistrate Tuesday.

When morale improves, so does patient care, Sweet Brook attorney Anthony Cichello said during a conference with the Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

"The idea was to start at ground zero and build it back," Cichello said of the management plan that has been in effect since March at the Williamstown facility. "It had been hard to keep and maintain staff with some of the challenges the facility had. I think that's turning around."

The company has created a report documenting issues identified at the nursing home and changes to be implemented over 90 days. Cichello provided the report Tuesday to Administrative Magistrate Mark Silverstein and attorneys James M. Strong and Heidi Hoefler from the Department of Public Health.

Sweet Brook has been under increased monitoring from state and federal agencies since summer 2017, when surveyors responding to complaints discovered violations that included allegations of abuse and neglect of residents. After several additional inspection reports, including one in March that allegedly found sexual abuse between residents, the Department of Public Health moved to revoke the facility's license in April.

In August, attorneys for the DPH and Sweet Brook appeared for the first time in the Division of Administrative Law Appeals for a hearing to appeal the closure. At that time, Silverstein asked the two agencies to voluntarily share documentation related to the case in an effort to determine whether the case can be settled outside a hearing.

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On Tuesday, the attorneys returned to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. After Cichello talked positively about the changes to the facility since they previously met, Strong said he couldn't comment until he and his team reviewed the report provided that morning.

Representatives from Sweet Brook's bank, Oxford Finance, which is based in Alexandria, Va., also attended the conference.

The bank has been working with Sweet Brook to finance overdue payment to MassHealth, Cichello said.

While the DPH reviews the management report, Silverstein asked that attorneys for both sides craft a status report, including what has been done to fix issues at the facility and what the Department of Public Health requests going forward.

The written report will be due to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals by Oct. 25. After that, there will be a determination on whether the two sides will settle and the facility will remain open.

"This is not holding the case up," Silverstein said. "I get the impression this is where we all want to go."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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