Making the decision to move a loved one into a nursing home is rarely a decision that is made lightly nor easily. Once the need for long-term care has been agreed upon, the search begins for the right facility. From the time you move your loved one into a nursing home you worry that they are being properly cared for and that the facility is free of abuse and neglect. Imagine how you would feel, therefore, if the nursing home your loved one was in was shut down by the State of Missouri? That’s exactly what happened at Benchmark Healthcare nursing home in Festus, Missouri, causing the 60 residents to be relocated to other facilities.
The State Steps in — Closes Nursing Home
A recent news story tells a sad story that doesn’t end well. According to news reports, by the time the State of Missouri took the drastic step of shutting down the nursing home, the facility’s financial problems were so severe that workers at the facility were using their own money to feed the residents. Not surprisingly, trash was also piling up, the lights were shut off, and the building was infested with flies at the time the nursing home was forcefully closed by the state.
Residents of the facility started complaining months ago that they were not getting fed as a result of suspension of food deliveries for non-payment. State investigators conducted an inspection in July, during which a Benchmark employee was seen trying to make a smoothie from seven pieces of dry toast. Although Missouri State health officials petitioned the court to put the nursing home into emergency receivership after that inspection, they backed down when the food deliveries started back up again.
Officials conducted a follow-up visit the next month. During that visit they found four residents were not getting medicines they needed for congestive heart failure, epilepsy and schizophrenia because the pharmacy bills hadn’t been paid in months. Finally, on September 13th officials took the unusual step of closing down the facility and relocating the 60 residents still living there at the time.
“It was just a disaster,” said Ann Bickel of the Missouri Coalition for Quality Care, which advocates for residents in nursing homes. “Some nursing homes aren’t as clean, some don’t have as much staff as we’d like them to have, and there is abuse sometimes. But to this extent, I have never heard of this.”
What Went Wrong?
The reason for the living conditions at the nursing home? Financial problems faced by the owner, Legacy Health Systems, a Chesterfield-based family business. Legacy Health Systems was started back in 1938 by Clara Sells and has been family run since then. John Sells, Clara’s grandson and the current President, decided to expand the business back in 1999 by taking over other nursing home chains. To do so, he borrowed millions of dollars. According to Sells, the company’s financial problems stem from discovering in 2014 that its payroll contractor had, for several years, stolen from them by failing to turn payroll taxes over to the IRS. Although the contractor was ordered to make more than $3 million in restitution to dozens of victims, hat may not be the true source of the company’s financial problems. Court records indicate that the company was having trouble paying its bills long before the embezzlement occurred. Among the lawsuits filed against the company for unpaid bills prior to 2014 were an insurance company, a pharmacy alleging that Sells’ nursing homes owed nearly $2 million, a lawsuit alleging the nursing homes were $900,000 in arrears for therapy goods and services, and a lawsuit claiming the company owed another $900,000 for food services. By 2015, Great Southern Bank took the company to court alleging a debt of over $6 million remained unpaid. The bank eventually sized four of the company’s nursing homes.
By the time the State of Missouri closed down the nursing home, staff had not been paid in weeks and were routinely paying for clothes and food for the residents out of their own pockets. Sadly, many of the residents at the facility were also suffering from mental health conditions.
What to Do If You Suspect Neglect at a Nursing Home
At this point you may be wondering how things could possibly have gotten that bad before something was done. The answer remains unclear; however, if you ever suspect neglect at a nursing home where a loved one resides, contact an experienced Missouri elder law attorney right away.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding nursing home abuse and neglect, contact the experienced Missouri elder law attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.