Albany County Nursing Home complaint alleges culture of neglect, fear, short staffing
July 04-- Jul. 4--COLONIE -- G.T. had significant dementia and was recovering from a urinary tract infection when she was admitted to the Albany County Nursing Home last summer.
Her condition was such that, at 87 years old and in poor health, her family could not provide her with the kind of round-the-clock care she needed, which included tasks such as making sure she ate and helping her use the bathroom.
But over the next several months, G.T.'s son became dismayed at the care his mother received in the county-run home, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court. He claims to have found her covered in her own urine and feces on an almost daily basis, and says she developed a rash and multiple urinary tract infections as a result.
One time, he said he showed up to find her covered in urine and shaking uncontrollably in her wheelchair. When he confronted a nurse he says she told him she thought his mom was just cold. G.T. was hospitalized the same day for a UTI.
Eventually, he grew so concerned at her lack of care that he took to calling 911 whenever she developed symptoms of an infection. Staff, he said, grew angry and combative in response, claiming they could "handle it here." The home's executive director, Larry Slatky, scolded him as well, saying that "if it was up to me, I wouldn't even let you in the building," the complaint says.
G.T.'s story of neglect at the Albany County Nursing Home emerged Wednesday, alongside three others, in an amended complaint filed a day earlier in U.S. District Court. The original complaint was filed in May by Lori LaRock, who says her father's death was a direct result of neglect by nursing home staff and who claims Slatky threatened her that any complaint filed with the state health department would be "lost" because one of his employees had a relative there.
Taken together, the four stories paint a picture of widespread dysfunction and neglect at the nursing home, fueled by apparent under-staffing and a culture of fear and retaliation against those who voice concern. Families described finding their loved ones covered in urine, vomit and feces on multiple occasions; their food and medication left untouched; their requests for emergency care ignored; and their concerns dismissed or rebuffed by both staff and management.
"These tragic stories tell us one thing: the problems at the Albany County Nursing Home are systemic, pervasive and highly disturbing," said Ilann Maazel, an attorney for LaRock. "No nursing home should ever treat its residents like this."
On Wednesday, just one day after the amended complaint was filed, Albany County officials invited media on a tour of renovations at the county nursing home, which is being renamed Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. The $80 million project is expected to add 70,000 square feet and provide residents with more private space, handicap-accessible bathrooms and modern amenities.
County Executive Daniel McCoy opened the tour with remarks about the importance of trusting a nursing home to properly care for a loved one.
Asked about the complaints, he and Slatky said they have not seen the new allegations but are confident in the quality of care being delivered within the facility.
"I take pride in what the workers are doing here, and I stand behind the quality of care that patients get here," McCoy said.
Slatky echoed that sentiment but declined to comment on specific allegations. He referred comment to attorney Kevin Burke of Burke, Scolamiero Hurd -- an Albany firm the county hired to defend itself against the lawsuit. Burke did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
C.G. was 60 years old and dying of lung cancer when she was admitted to the county nursing home in March 2016.
That same month, she developed oral thrush -- a fungal infection that caused her mouth to break out in sores and made it painful to eat and drink.
According to the complaint, which identified three of the four residents by initials only, her daughter requested medication to treat the infection. Four days later, after nothing had been done, her daughter said she would bring and administer the antifungal medication herself if the staff didn't.
Finally, they said they'd give her the medication. But when C.G.'s daughter showed up later that day, she found the medicine untouched in a cup beside her bed. Her mother's mouth had become so swollen that it took 30 minutes for her two daughters to remove her dentures so she could take the medicine.
Her dentures were "constantly covered" in fungus, the complaint says, and were only ever cleaned by family.
On numerous other occasions, her daughter said she found both medication and food left untouched by her mother's bed.
This practice -- of not monitoring a resident to ensure they eat and take medicine, or assisting those who can't perform these tasks themselves -- was also observed by LaRock, who said her father lost 20 pounds in his first four months at the facility.
Nursing homes are required by federal law to ensure residents receive proper nutrition and medication, said Richard Mollott, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to quality of care in nursing home and other residential settings.
"It's not a nursing home's job to force food down their throat -- residents have the ability to say no to food or medicine just like anyone else, but if they do it has to be documented," he said.
Three of the four residents described in the complaint were apparently found in their own feces, urine or vomit on multiple occasions by family members, in some cases causing rash or infection.
Family members also described finding their loved ones or other residents in the nursing home with injuries from unattended falls.
In March 2016, staff called C.G.'s daughter to say they found her mom on the floor bleeding from her head, and that they didn't know how long she had been there. When the daughter arrived to the facility that day, she said she found her mother lying unattended and bleeding on a pillow. No one had cleaned or dressed the cut on her head, the complaint alleges.
C.W., a man with multiple cancers and a recently broken neck, was admitted to the nursing home last July. The day after he was admitted, his son visited to find pillows surrounding his bed. He asked a nurse about them, who responded that they were "in case he fell out of bed."
Mollot said it's not uncommon for nursing homes to place beds closer to the floor or to place mats beside a bed to cushion a resident's fall, as guard rails pose risk of strangulation and injury.
The use of pillows, however, "sounds kind of strange," he said.
Slatky said Wednesday that the addition and renovated wings of the nursing home will use electric beds that can be lifted and lowered, as well as mats to cushion falls.
On one occasion last summer, LaRock arrived to the nursing home to find her father covered in urine. When she asked for help, she was told the nursing home was short-staffed and to change him herself if she wanted it to get done in the near future, the complaint says.
More than two years earlier in March 2016, C.G.'s daughter was allegedly told something similar. She had written a letter to Slatky and the Albany County Department of Residential Health Care Facilities about her mother's constant falls, and about staff's apparent refusal to feed, change or treat her.
In response, nursing home staff told her they were understaffed and could not meet her mother's needs. They offered to move her mom to a room a closer to the nurses' station, which she agreed to and which resulted in more frequent bathing but not much else, she said.
Her mother died a few days later.
"In general, neglect issues are usually due to short staffing -- not having enough people on the floor," Mollot said. "That kind of care and service is a red flag. To me, it's a very clear indicator that there's likely insufficient staffing."
New York is one of a "minority" of states that doesn't mandate minimum safe staffing levels at nursing homes, he said. Nevertheless, federal rules require nursing homes to provide sufficient staff and services that "attain or maintain the highest possible level of physical, mental and psychosocial wellbeing of each resident."
Though it previously had capacity for 250 residents, recent construction has forced the nursing home to reduce capacity, Slatky said. It currently has 182 residents and roughly 250 employees, though he couldn't say how many of those are clinical, hands-on staff. That number also includes full, part time and per diem workers, Slatky said.
The reduced capacity has led to "better staffing ratios" for residents, he said, adding that staffing is based more on resident need than strict staffing ratios.
LaRock, who filed the original complaint, said she arrived to the nursing home last summer to find her father alone in a room, drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. His oxygen tube was dangling from his nose, and no one was around to help him, she said.
She ran into the hallway to ask for help, and found no one. She ran to the dining room and found a nurse, who indicated surprise that a nursing supervisor had left him in that condition.
Her father had aspirated on his own vomit, and died two days later.
A state Department of Health investigation into his death found that nursing home staff had violated three federal laws, including failure to provide basic life support, failure to provide or seek respiratory care, and failure to provide treatment and care "in accordance with professional standards of practice."