As a Boston injury lawyer, there’s one thing I cannot stomach or tolerate, and that’s the abuse or neglect of a patient in a nursing home, or “skilled nursing facility.” Most people I know dread the thought of visiting the majority of these places – and with good reason: Unless the facility is one of the most expensive, highly-rated nursing homes in Massachusetts, what happens inside these places would likely shock you.
Such as what? Try to think of the following (warning: You’ll need a strong stomach for what follows)::
• Urine-soaked diapers being left on a patient for hours on end. Even worse – feces-soaked diapers.
• Pressure sores – bed ulcers – going untreated for days and even weeks – resulting in wounds so bad they perforate muscle.
• Cold meals that are left in front of patients who can’t feed themselves.
• Patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia disorders being given anti-psychotic drugs – as though they were mentally ill.
• Patients who are strapped into beds and left there for hours on end.
• Patients who are not given medications that are prescribed for them.
• Patients whose calls for help are not answered for hours.
• Poor infection control – making many nursing facilities giant manufacturing plants for bacteria and viruses of all kinds – which end up infecting a near-majority of Massachusetts nursing home residents
• Patients that are physically abused and man-handled as though they were furniture.
How and why does this type of inhuman treatment of other human beings take place? A variety of factors, but Number One on that list is: Corporate greed and indifference – the drive for profit at the expense of morality and decency. Couple that with a lax regulatory enforcement system due to strained state government budgets, and you have the Perfect Storm for this type of abuse to become commonplace.
Exhibit “A” : A company called Synergy Health Centers – a large corporation that has been a recent entry into the Massachusetts nursing home market. Who are they? They’re a business headquartered in Miami Beach, Florida. What do they do? They’re a chain that buys up unprofitable nursing home facilities throughout Massachusetts and other states. While they claim to be in the admirable business of providing adequate care to the residents of their facilities, advertising that Synergy provides the “finest in clinical and rehabilitative services,” and “impeccable customer service,” the facts tell a very different, opposing story: A story of patient neglect on a scale that is shocking to even the most veteran regulators and industry-watchers. Synergy essentially buys up existing nursing homes that are struggling financially due to low reimbursements from the federal and state governments (Medicare & Medicaid.) They swoop in, buy these unprofitable “skilled nursing facilties” (don’t let that term ever fool you,) and then cut costs and quality to the bone, at the expense of the patient neglect and human suffering that results in these facilities. Worse, as part of this corporate strategy, these multi-state nursing home chains set up shell companies that they pay “administrative fees” to. Why? To shift the money they make from this human suffering, to subsidiary companies: This practice shields their profits if they are sued due to this rampant neglect. For example, they’ll set up a real estate company, a management company, or a staffing firm that hires the employees. They’ll set up specialized companies for “physical therapy services” and “occupational rehabilitation.” It’s nothing than a shameful (but legal) shell game.
Some examples of what results from such practices:
• New England Health Center, a nursing home operated by Synergy Health Centers in Sunderland Massachusetts, was found by state regulators for leaving elderly soaked in urine, due to cheap, inadequate adult diapers.
• Braemoor Health Center in Brockton, also owned by Synergy Health Cednters, had a blemish-free state review before Synergy took over. After Synergy took over, health inspectors were called to the facility three times in just the past year alone, finding lax infection control, among other serious inadequacies.
• In another Synergy nursing facility, a patient’s pressure sores had been neglected for weeks.
• In yet another Synergy nursing facility, serving dishes and eating utensils were found floating in dirty water, just before being used to serve food.
• In yet another Synergy nursing facility, there weren’t enough nurses to care for the number of patients in the facility.
As a Massachusetts nursing home neglect attorney, this infuriates me. But it doesn’t surprise me. State regulator reports have documented the shocking increases in these types of problems that have developed since Synergy arrived in Massachusetts. Tracking this increase in Massachusetts nursing home patient neglect, Synergy’s expansion in this state has been extremely rapid – the chain bought 10 Massachusetts nursing homes since December 2012 – a little more than 2 years ago as of this post. Those facilities are located in in Amesbury, Arlington, Brockton (where they own two), Newton, Revere, Sunderland, Watertown, Wilmington, and Worcester.
I’ll report more on this troubling (but predictable) problem- and what people can do about it – in my next post, in a couple of days.