News10NBC Investigates: Elder advocate weighs in on allegations against local nursing home
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The state has passed a number of laws in an effort to keep your loved ones safe at nursing homes.
But elder advocates worry the laws might be worth little more than the paper they’re written on. That’s because a law is only effective if it’s enforced. And advocates say the New York State Department of Health has a history of failing the most frail among us, our elders in nursing homes.
On November 9th, the family of 87-year-old Juanita Abrahams protested outside Waterview Heights nursing home in Charlotte. They say Abrahams was rushed to the hospital after a nursing home staffer, working alone, dropped her and broke her arm while attempting to move her with a mechanical lift that recommends the operation of two workers.
Then just weeks later an ambulance would rush another Waterview Heights resident to the hospital. Carol Lennox’s family says they visited her on November 20th and found she was having difficulty breathing.
Her family says that on that day there wasn’t a licensed nurse on the floor who could give their mother her medication. Lennox died six days later.
“The department of health is in charge of enforcing the laws and regulations, and in 2021 the state of New York enacted several nursing home reform laws,” said MaryDel Wypych, chair of the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice.
New state laws set minimum staffing requirements and require nursing homes to spend 70 percent of their budget on direct patient care But Wypych is skeptical.
“Laws without teeth are meaningless,” she said, referring to past inaction in the enforcement of nursing home regulations.
Wypych says the state Department of Health has a long history of failing to exert its enforcement power.
“The problem is that even when the inspectors go in and they find really egregious actions, the consequences are so meaningless,” said Wypych.
That’s exactly what state comptroller Thomas Dinapoli concluded in his recent audit of nursing homes. He wrote that in 69 percent of the violations cited by the department of health, there was no evidence it followed through to ensure that nursing homes fixed the problems. Wypych stresses that family members must advocate for loved ones in nursing homes.
“Form a family council if there’s not one in a nursing home, or if there is one join it because there’s strength in numbers,” she said.
In response to Dinapoli’s audit, the Department of Health leaders say they have already corrected many of the wrongs cited. This summer, the department announced a reorganization, creating the Office of Aging and Long-term care to oversee nursing homes.
And last month, Wypych met with leaders of that new office. She hopes to see positive change. If you have a complaint about a nursing home, call the complaint line at 1-888-201-4563.