Injuries, deaths cited in nursing homes settlement; no Berkshire sites fined

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BOSTON — As a result of a multiyear investigation into their systemic failures in care, some of which resulted in injuries or death, seven nursing homes in five counties will have to pay more than $500,000 in fines, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Wednesday in Boston.

Despite a Williamstown nursing home recently being designated as a special focus facility with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, noting its serious, long-term issues in care, no Berkshire County facilities were implicated in the investigation.

"This was a major and significant, statewide investigation," Attorney General Maura Healey said at news conference in Boston. "Every senior has a right to quality care and every family has a right to know their loved one is safe in a long-term-care facility."

Healey said that her office investigated reports of substandard care or regulatory violations based on complaints from Department of Public Health inspectors and families.

In one facility, a patient died after being caught in "outdated and faulty" bedrails, Healey said. Another patient died after staff failed to administer medication that could have prevented a fatal blood clot.

Betsy Crane, a former resident of Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Westborough, had already fallen 19 times while in the care of the facility.

Her next fall, in 2015, proved fatal.

"Our mother, Betty Ford Crane, affectionately called Betsy, would not want anyone to die in the manner that she did," her daughter, Candi Hitchcock, said at the news conference.

Hitchcock, who called her mother her "best friend," found Betsy Crane the night of her 20th fall suffering from an untreated head wound. The 89-year-old had also suffered internal injuries that would lead to her death.

"Our family had to watch her bleed out for 10 days from July 29 to Aug. 7, 2015," Hitchcock said. "She died an unnecessarily painful death."

Members of Crane's family joined Healey and senior care advocates to announce settlements with Beaumont and the six nursing care facilities.

"My hope today is that entities operating in the state will live up to expectations of quality of care and quality of life, and if they don't, they'll have to answer to our office," Healey said.

There are more than 400 nursing homes in Massachusetts operating 45,000 beds, but officials said the industry is facing severe financial and demographic challenges that have led to "cutting corners" and shortages in staffing or substandard training that is affecting the level of care that seniors receive.

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The nursing homes caught up in the investigation will pay $450,000 to $550,000 in fines that will be split between the state's general fund and a fund operated by the Department of Public Health to monitor and improve nursing home care.

Settlements were reached with Beaumont Rehabilitation; Oxford Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Haverhill; Woodbriar Health Center in Wilmington; Braemoor Health Center in Brockton; Wakefield Center in Wakefield; The Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Everett; and Jewish Nursing Home of Longmeadow, which, at about 50 miles away, is the closest facility to Berkshire County to be implicated.

That doesn't mean the Berkshire County nursing home industry is without its problems.

In February, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services designated Sweet Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center a special focus facility because of serious issues found during inspections last year.

In the past year and a half, Sweet Brook, which is rated "much below average" by the CMMS, racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to abide by state and federal regulations in resident care.

Inspections of the nursing home have found dozens of instances in which patients were mistreated, abused or neglected by staff.

The State Department of Public Health, too, has rated the facility in the bottom 1 percent in the state.

In Pittsfield, Springside Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center is also rated by the CMMS as a "much below average" facility. The state puts it in the bottom 24 percent of nursing homes in Massachusetts.

While neither of these facilities was named in the settlement with the Attorney General's Office, both, along with Timberlyn Heights Nursing and Rehabilitation in Great Barrington and Mount Carmel in Lenox, were among 60 facilities to receive technical assistance and training from the DPH over the past three years.

According to the DPH, all four Berkshire facilities made improvements in their readiness and ability to conduct quality assurance and process improvement projects over the course of the three years working with the state's Supportive Planning and Operations Team.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders this week told lawmakers that many nursing homes were at deep risk of closure due to the financial strains being put on facilities by payment rates and a shift toward assisted living and in-home care with home health aides.

"The state funding shortfall for nursing homes and its impact on quality staffing recruitment and retention is very real," said Ernie Corrigan of Mass Senior Care. "This crisis requires the immediate attention of leaders from across the commonwealth to come together to ensure that the individuals who live at Massachusetts nursing facilities always receive high quality care."

State House News Service contributed to this story.

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


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