Nursing home problems for owners of Sweet Brook go beyond Berkshires

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The owners of a Williamstown nursing home that recently was identified by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services as a facility with serious issues in care also own dozens of facilities in New York and Ohio.

Sweet Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is owned by Alexander, Rochelle and Samuel Sherman, as well as Jeffrey Goldstein and Zaleman Horowitz, according to CMS. Federal and state public records show that members of this group also have ownership interests in at least 16 facilities in Ohio and at least 13 in New York.

While several of the facilities identified in these records are rated as above average, many, like Sweet Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, have a history of violations. The Williamstown nursing home was identified last month as a "special focus facility," meaning that it is one of fewer than 90 in the country that have been subjected to increased federal monitoring due to long-standing issues.

"We recognize that we have a real responsibility as skilled nursing facility owners; we are taking care of people's beloved family members and friends, sometimes in moments of crisis," Sweet Brook owners said in a statement provided by a spokeswoman. "We and our team members absolutely want to do our best for those families."

Of the Ohio facilities, primarily owned by Goldstein and Samuel and Alexander Sherman, at least nine are rated by CMS as below average or much below average. The other seven that have been identified by the Eagle are rated average or above average in care.

In New York, Goldstein and Alexander Sherman are part owners of the Humboldt House Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a below-average-rated facility with 173 beds in Buffalo, according to CMS.

Goldstein, Samuel Sherman and Israel Sherman are among the owners of Fiddler's Green Manor Home, a below-average facility with 83 beds in Springville, N.Y.

Israel Sherman, who is not identified as an owner of Sweet Brook but whose ownership of other facilities overlaps with members of the group, is most closely associated with Absolut Care, a company that owns nearly a dozen New York facilities totaling slightly less than 1,000 beds.

Absolut Care came under fire last year when the Buffalo News exposed long-standing issues with the Absolut Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation at Aurora Park.

The reporting noted the deaths of two residents, one from a fall and another from a bedsore, and allegations of serious sanitary concerns at the 320-bed facility.

Last month, dozens of protesters, including family of residents, gathered outside the facility demanding better care, according to local reports.

Nursing home advocates, speaking generally on the nursing home industry as a whole, say that oftentimes the same owners are allowed to continue to purchase nursing homes when the federal government already has identified issues at their other properties, despite that information being publicly available.

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"Essentially, the reason is that states are supposed to be reviewing applications when someone wants to buy a nursing home or building and, frankly, there isn't a lot of scrutiny given to the owner's other facilities," said Richard Mollot, executive director of The Long Term Care Community Coalition in New York.

"Someone's history is the best indicator possible, in my opinion, of how they are going to operate in the future."

Lindsay Heckler, supervising attorney at the Center for Elder Law and Justice in Buffalo, where Sweet Brook's ownership team has other facilities, agrees that reviewing the past work of individuals looking to purchase a new nursing home should be a part of the process for state licensing.

The information to be considered is easily accessible to those who grant licenses, she said.

"This public information includes copies of the health inspection reports and enforcement penalties. If the potential operator has a history of operating nursing homes with substandard care, the state should not be granting the license to operate another facility," Heckler said.

"However, this does not always happen, as the priority for granting such licenses may be based on the operator's financial ability to keep the nursing home in operation."

Sweet Brook owners declined to comment on specifics about their facility ratings or the nursing home industry in general as they are collaborating with CMS through the special focus program, but said that their team is committed to improving the quality of care in instances where they fall short.

Their designation as a special focus facility likely stems from dozens of instances in which CMS said residents were found mistreated, abused or neglected by staff in 2017 and 2018.

Sweet Brook racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failing to abide by state and federal regulations in resident care.

State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, said Monday that his office had been contacted several times by concerned families after a series of Eagle stories about the facility were published in January. Since then, he has learned that state agencies also have an eye on issues at Sweet Brook.

"In circumstances where we have an opportunity to do better or we learn about concerns from families or regulatory agencies, we are fully committed to investing in the leadership, staffing and facilities necessary to address those concerns," the ownership group said through a statement provided by spokeswoman Diana Pisciotta.

"In particular, we want to commend the team at Sweet Brook for their continued focus on providing a quality care experience to our patients. The team has worked hard to address the issues that were raised in late 2017/early 2018 and remain committed to continuous improvement."

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


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