ABC27 confronts nursing home about complaints of cockroaches, filth, verbal abuse

After former employees complained of problems at the Susquehanna Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, ABC27 News investigated and found the nursing home was out of compliance during eight inspections in a year.

susquehanna-valley-nursing-and-rehabilitation-center

COLUMBIA, Pa. (WHTM) – “I’ve seen roaches, but these are huge,” Kayla Singleton said as she watched the video again.

Singleton says she was a registered nurse supervisor at Susquehanna Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, Lancaster County when she recorded the video in the facility’s kitchen in June.

“I went in with another employee so she could show me what happens when you turn the light on in the kitchen,” she said. “Sure enough, I turned the light on and they were scattering everywhere. I just couldn’t believe it.”

“I was gagging,” she added.

She says she decided to take her concerns to her supervisors.

“A lot of people fight with ‘I need my job, I need to support my family’ versus ‘These people need me to speak up for them, and if I do I’m going to lose the way I provide for my family’,” Singleton said. “That’s a tough situation to be in.”

Singleton says she was fired a week later. She posted the video on Facebook shortly after.

“I felt like I had to warn the community,” she said.

A History of Problems

Her concerns go beyond cockroaches, and she’s not alone. After Singleton posted the video, other former employees came forward. They said they hoped things would change when Vita Healthcare Group bought the facility in June 2015, but problems continued.

Some left. Others say they were fired for speaking up.

“Our residents weren’t being kept safe,” said Niccole Leas, a licensed practical nurse and former employee.

“They’re not even treated like they’re humans,” certified nursing assistant and former employee Brittany Dietz told ABC27.

“We just want to see those people in a place where they deserve to be,” former employee Ana Matteo said.

ABC27 went through Susquehanna Valley’s nursing home inspections since Vita Healthcare took over. In the span of a year, eight inspections showed the nursing home was out of compliance. There were 14 documented complaints against the facility in that same amount of time.

Out-of-Compliance Inspections
July 28, 2015
Oct. 22, 2015
Nov. 6, 2015
Nov. 24, 2015
Dec. 17, 2015
Feb. 16, 2016
April 20, 2016
July 1, 2016

Violations support the stories of former employees.

Several told ABC27 there were problems with dirty wheelchairs, including allegations of maggots and complaints about the smells. An inspection from October 2015 says the Department of Health found evidence of dirty wheelchairs and discovered they were not being cleaned on a routine basis.

Several other inspections showed the facility did not “maintain a clean, safe and sanitary environment.”

“There wouldn’t be washcloths to wash them with because they’re still back in laundry or just didn’t exist,” Deitz said. “Soap would be gone.”

An inspection from November 2015 says the facility failed to maintain its linen rooms. One just a few weeks later says the facility failed to ensure proper infection control practices were followed.

Inspections from December 2015 and February 2016 show issues with residents developing pressure sores. A report from April 2016 says the facility failed to provide adequate supervision and monitoring.

A violation listed on an out-of-compliance inspection from July 2016 shows “failing to properly assess and notify the physician” when a resident was having chest pains. No one called 911. The resident died.

“We need help for those residents,” Matteo said.

Former employees blame short-staffing to save money at the for-profit facility. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently called out Pennsylvania’s Department of Health for taking nursing homes at their word about staffing hours instead of demanding proof.

“Staffing is an issue everywhere you go,” Leas said, “but you got to draw the line somewhere at what’s safe.”

The Confrontation

Rather than calling ahead and giving Susquehanna Valley’s managers time to clean up, ABC27 showed up and asked for the person in charge.

Below is a portion of the video transcript between reporter Amanda St. Hilaire and Susquehanna Valley administrator Ralph Gottlieb immediately after St. Hilaire showed him the cockroach video.

Gottlieb: That’s not my kitchen.
St. Hilaire: That’s not your kitchen?
Gottlieb: I have no sign, let me show you – I have no sign.
St. Hilaire: You don’t have a sign telling employees to wash their hands?
Gottlieb: Not over there. Not in that area. That’s not my paint.
St. Hilaire: OK.
Gottlieb: I have different color paint.
St. Hilaire: Can we go into your – your kitchen of the facility and take a look?
Gottlieb: No.
St. Hilaire: If that’s not your kitchen, why wouldn’t we be allowed –
Gottlieb: You can go in-
St. Hilaire: to go in and see it?
Gottlieb: No, because I’m just not into media. We’re not interested.
St. Hilaire: If that’s not really your kitchen, why can’t we go in and verify that?
Gottlieb: You can go in and verify it, not with a camera.
St. Hilaire: But I can take a picture inside the kitchen?
Gottlieb: (Pause) Why would you want to take a picture?
St. Hilaire: Because we want to compare side-by-side…
Gottlieb: And I feel intimidated, I don’t like this. Please shut it off.

Gottlieb agreed to continue speaking on camera if ABC27 also interviewed maintenance director Harold Horner.

Horner: We had an infestation. We didn’t try to hide that or anything else, even with DOH, but we did go after it very aggressively.
St. Hilaire: So there were cockroaches?
Horner: (Nodding) There was cockroaches, and I can tell you right now there’s not too many facilities you go into right now that don’t have them.

time-stampHorner did not know Gottlieb had denied the cockroach video. He also didn’t know about the time stamp saying the video was recorded in June.

Horner: That was video of the kitchen back in January, February, maybe.
St. Hilaire: (turning to Gottlieb) So you just looked at the video and said that wasn’t your kitchen–
Gottlieb: Harold, I just looked at that video now. There is, that video does not look like it was even our kitchen to begin with.
Horner: Regardless, we know-
Gottlieb: Regardless, today as we stand here, there are no roaches, there are no bugs in the kitchen. Zero. Everything is clean.

ABC27 asked about other concerns from past inspections. Gottlieb said he just took over in May, so ABC27 focused on what happened from that point on.

St. Hilaire: Well, on July 1st, that inspection, it also said that family members were not being informed about falls, that there was a case where a resident was in bed without bed linens and there’s also an allegation of verbal abuse with a staff member yelling at a resident during that inspection. so what is your response –
Gottlieb: I’m not comfortable with that (moves to block camera). I said, I’m not comfortable with the way you ask questions. I want to have a conversation about it and then video. You just started –
St. Hilaire: That’s not how this works-
Gottlieb: Well, that’s how it’s going to work for me.
St. Hilaire: We want your official, authentic response.
Gottlieb: OK – not on camera. I’ll tell you and then you can decide if you want to put it on camera or not.

ABC27 made it know that the camera was staying on. Gottlieb and Horner continued to answer questions on-camera.

Making Changes

Eventually, things calmed down.

“We try our best,” Gottlieb said. “And we have been making progressive changes every single day since we started working here.”

“We went through and we’ve got two halls already. They went through and completely remodeled everything; fresh paint, we got new nursing stations, we got new med carts,” Horner said. “It’s really hard to talk about what this place used to be compared to what it’s going to be.”

Gottlieb: If I may add to that, like all these things you mentioned with surveys and things – those are things that happened prior to mine and Harold’s arrival and prior issues that occurred prior to the new ownership.
St. Hilaire: Well, the July 1st one, you were here.
Gottlieb: Correct, but they’re looking at issues that happened prior to March 1st.

ABC27 discovered that’s not entirely true. Inspections show several violations including the allegation of verbal abuse, failing to notify responsible parties about falls, and evidence that the facility “failed to maintain a clean and sanitary condition.”

“Granted, the issues that were in the building before the ownership, it takes time to get rid of them,” Gottlieb said. “And they have. Most of the issues that this building has sat in for many years are done.”

ABC27 asked if employees were fired for raising concerns.

“There’s no such thing as retaliation,” Gottlieb said. “We would never, no one in the building would ever retaliate on anybody.”

Inside the Nursing Home

After about an hour, Gottlieb and Horner agreed to let ABC27 take a phone inside the facility’s kitchen to record video and audio. They said they wanted to show that they eliminated the cockroaches.

“I’ve never seen a kitchen this clean,” Horner said. “Ever, anywhere.”

No cockroaches in sight, but part of the kitchen did look like the one in the cockroach video. ABC27’s crew walked over to that section and continued recording.

Gottlieb: Do me a favor, please don’t get that in the video, that doesn’t look–
St. Hilaire: Well, this part, we have to compare it to-
Gottlieb: Just try to get that from here to there because it doesn’t look very nice.

There are clear similarities between ABC27’s video of Susquehanna Valley’s kitchen and Singleton’s cockroach video.

Gottlieb: I will say it again – I don’t know if that video was of Susquehanna Valley.
St. Hilaire: At first you said it wasn’t.
Gottlieb: At first I said it wasn’t, and I’ll tell you I don’t know. And the reason why I said it wasn’t at first was I did come across as defensive – because that’s the normal way people react when they’re accused of doing something they shouldn’t have done or a fault of theirs.

“But I do want to clarify,” Gottlieb added. “Since I’m here, there haven’t been any issues with roaches, thankfully.”

Gottlieb says he wants to point out the positive. He showed ABC27 construction and renderings of a planned investment in a new resident lounge area, activity center, and lobby.

Gottlieb also asked ABC27 to include a statement in the story.

“My gut reaction was very defensive and I came across as very attackful towards you,” Gottlieb said, “so I apologize for that.”

No apology for former employees. Gottlieb says they’re exaggerating because they’re disgruntled.

The former employees who spoke with ABC27 say they’re telling the truth.

“I was upset at the reasoning because I think I didn’t deserve it,” Singleton said. “I have moved on. I have another job. I am very happy with it. I’m not mad at them for firing me, I’m truly not. I’m mad that nothing’s being done to help these people.”

letter
A copy of a letter praising the Susquehanna Valley staff. (Click to enlarge)

The day before the story aired on ABC27, a representative from Vita Healthcare called and reiterated the changes that are being made at the facility. He sent ABC27 seven letters he says are from family members who have had positive experiences at the nursing home.

Dates on some of the letters show they were written before Vita Healthcare bought the facility. Two are dated to show they were written in 2016, which is after the company took over.

All the letters praise the Susquehanna Valley staff.

Former employees say they agree with the praise of the staff; they say they are concerned because they feel there is not enough of that staff to operate safely.

One of the letters Vita Healthcare sent to ABC27 mentions the facility could have used additional staffing at times.

ABC27 spoke with the person who wrote that letter. He gave permission for the letter to be published, and praised the employees who helped care for his wife. He told ABC27 the letter he wrote was not meant to praise current nursing home administrator Ralph Gottlieb.

To anonymously report nursing home complaints to the Health Department, click here.

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