Post-inspection, Sweet Brook again on cusp of losing federal funding

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Despite recent claims of improvements at the facility, a Williamstown nursing home once again is on track to lose its federal funding after an unfavorable inspection this month, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

After the March 8 inspection, CMS notified Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing Center that the facility is being placed in a state of "immediate jeopardy," a sanction that freezes admissions of new Medicare residents and cuts Medicare and Medicaid funding.

"The Medicare provider agreement between the Skilled Nursing Facility and the Secretary of Health and Human Services will be terminated on March 31, 2019, due to their failure to meet Medicare's basic health and safety requirements," the agency said in a public information notice Monday. "We are closely monitoring the relocation of Medicare and Medicaid residents to other facilities."

Sweet Brook Rehabilitation and Nursing 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.

In February, Sweet Brook was put on a list of special focus facilities, which is made up of fewer than 90 nursing homes across the country that have demonstrated long-standing issues in care. At that time, a spokeswoman for the facility claimed that the issues that prompted the federal agency to designate Sweet Brook a special focus case were over a year old and conditions had improved.

"While assuring quality care is an ongoing and long-term effort, we have made important progress and believe the care at Sweet Brook is safe and meets quality standards," spokeswoman Diana Pisciotta said in a statement four days before the most recent survey.

On Thursday, Pisciotta reiterated the progress the facility has made and its continued efforts to improve.

"The clinical leadership and day-to-day patient care team at Sweet Brook have made progress in assuring that our care meets both our own high quality standards and all regulatory requirements," she said in a statement. "We are diligently working to address some isolated issues that require focused attention and we are working collaboratively with [Department of Public Health] to implement a corrective action plan."

A nursing home is put in immediate jeopardy when violations discovered at the facility have caused or could potentially cause serious injury, impairment or death to staff or residents, according to CMS documents.

The facility was given 23 days to come into compliance with federal regulations before the contract will be terminated. The March 8 survey is not publicly available, but this isn't the first time CMS has threatened to cut funding to the facility.

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In September 2017, the DPH recommended to CMS that the facility be placed in immediate jeopardy, which temporarily froze its ability to admit Medicare residents, due to noncompliance with federal regulations.

That survey showed consistent failures in keeping residents clean and changed, as well as verbal, emotional and financial abuse by an employee.

The federal agency later found that the facility came back into compliance with regulations and removed the immediate jeopardy notice.

But when surveyors returned in March 2018, they continued to find similar issues, including that staff was not responding to residents' call bells for more than an hour at a time, and residents were being left for hours in soiled diapers.

Nursing home advocates nationwide are concerned with the habitual "yo-yo compliance" that facilities fall into.

When a nursing home "falls out of compliance" with federal regulations and is considered to be in immediate jeopardy, it is required to provide a plan to correct the issues in order to ensure that its funding continues, but oftentimes the plans it creates are not put into action, Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition in New York, has said.

On March 5, Seema Verma, administrator for CMS, issued a statement alerting health care providers of new guidelines for identifying "immediate jeopardy" cases at nursing homes.

"There is absolutely no room in America's healthcare system for any situation that violates quality or safety standards," Verma wrote. "That's why CMS is issuing new guidance that takes a key step towards making across-the-board improvements in healthcare safety and quality.

"This guidance directly addresses violations of health and safety regulations that cause serious harm or death to a patient and require immediate action to prevent further serious harm. These situations are called immediate jeopardy," Verma added. "It's critical that federal and state inspectors accurately identify, thoroughly investigate, and ensure immediate jeopardy situations are resolved decisively and swiftly."

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


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