Patient Deaths Cited In Mass. Settlement With 7 Nursing Homes

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It was the summer of 2015, and Betty Crane was looking forward to her 70th wedding anniversary in December.

But at a press conference at the Massachusetts attorney general's office Wednesday, Crane's daughter, Candi Hitchcock, said her mother didn't make it past August. A caretaker at the Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Westborough didn't turn on the alarm on Crane's bed.

"She got up and walked, and she was not found until the shift changed. She had a head injury," Hitchcock remembered. "We were not notified. The nurse on duty was not notified. There was no wound care at all."

A week later, Hitchcock said her 89-year-old mother died. She said her mother's death was a violation of an inherent trust.

"We turn over our loved ones to skilled nursing centers, because we do not have the training or the skill sets to care for them at home. We expect them to be safe."

Candi Hitchcock

"We turn over our loved ones to skilled nursing centers, because we do not have the training or the skill sets to care for them at home," Hitchcock said. "We expect them to be safe. Unless facilities are held accountable, there will be no change."

Maura Healey, the state's attorney general, agrees. That's why after the death of Hitchcock's mom and other similar deaths and injuries at other nursing homes, the AG's office launched an investigation into allegations of systemic failures at elder care facilities across the state.

After a years-long investigation, Healey's office reached settlements with seven nursing home facilities over the deaths of five residents and several injury cases.

The facilities that settled with the office are:

(Courtesy of the attorney general's office)
(Courtesy of the attorney general's office)

"In one facility, a person died after being caught in outdated and faulty bed rails," Healey said. "In another facility, they failed to give a patient medication that would have prevented a fatal blood clot, and the person died."

In Wednesday's settlements, the nursing homes agreed to pay amounts ranging from $30,000 to $200,000. They also agreed to increase monitoring over the course of three years. They now face additional fines if they don't comply with recommended improvements. One of the nursing homes has closed, Healey told reporters Wednesday.

Synergy Health Centers ran two of the nursing homes — Woodbriar Health Center and Braemoor Health Center --  and is now banned from operating in Massachusetts for seven years.

Despite people dying as a result of systemic failures, the attorney general's office isn't seeking criminal charges. No one is going to jail.

"We make our determinations based on the facts, based on the circumstances and also based on the relief we're trying to achieve," Healey said. "So, we'll take whatever action we think is appropriate and best serves the interest of justice."

The investigation found that many facilities were understaffed or didn't have adequate staff training. Hitchcock, who's mom died in a nursing home, said she feels for those workers.

"We have a lot of compassion for the caregivers," Hitchcock said. "There were some that were doing their very best. But they didn't know what their very best could be."

Hitchcock said she hopes nobody has to suffer like her mom did in the care of a nursing home.

Half the money from the settlements will fund nursing home inspections. There's also a plan to increase fines for nursing homes that don't have safe environments. The rest of the money will go into the state's General Fund.

Healey's office encouraged the public to report similar problems to its Medicaid Fraud Division at 617-963-2360 or file a complaint through the Department of Public Health's website.

This article was originally published on March 13, 2019.

This segment aired on March 13, 2019.

Quincy Walters Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters is a producer for WBUR Podcasts.



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