I-Team: Nursing Home Database Uncovers a Catalog of Horrors

In one case, a 55-year old Long Island man with dementia wandered away from his caretakers and his body was found three days later

By Chris Glorioso and Tom Burke
|  Thursday, Sep 13, 2012  |  Updated 6:08 PM EDT
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It's one of the most difficult decisions for families to make: putting a loved one in a nursing home. How do you choose the right one? The I-Team unveils a new tool to help you decide. NBC New York Investigative Reporter Chris Glorioso reports.

NBC 4 New York

It's one of the most difficult decisions for families to make: putting a loved one in a nursing home. How do you choose the right one? The I-Team unveils a new tool to help you decide. NBC New York Investigative Reporter Chris Glorioso reports.

Nursing homes losing track of vulnerable residents, infested with insects and overmedicating patients are just a few of the violations uncovered by the I-Team using a new tool that offers a detailed look at nursing home failures.

In one case, a 55-year old Long Island man with dementia wandered away from his caretakers and his body was found three days later, in Brooklyn, face down on a sidewalk, no pulse and frozen.

It happened in 2011, over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The details of his Dennis Buckham’s death were essentially kept quiet until the I-Team dug into the Woodmere Rehab and Health Care Center’s violation history with the state health department.

“I’m trying not to [blame Woodmere],” said Buckham’s sister, Beverly. “But, you know the facility should have done more than what they did.”

The Health Department’s inspection report said Dennis suffered from cognitive disorder and was known for wandering away.

It also said Woodmere had a pattern of lax supervision putting residents in immediate jeopardy.

"That means they don't have enough staff," said Beverly Buckham.

The I-Team found numerous examples of residents wandering away or what is technically called, “eloping.”

In one case, at the Bishop Charles Nursing Home in Far Rockaway, a resident was able to walk out the front door and essentially disappeared for a time.

“It has nothing to do with staffing at all,” said Michael Biderman who runs the Bishop Charles home. “The staffing in the facility is adequate. This is strictly human error that occurred.”

Other issues include a violation at Rosewood Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Rensselaer where staff failed to notice maggots nesting in a resident’s open wound.

Administrators with the facility declined the I-Team request for an interview.

Workers at the Plaza Health Care and Rehabilitation in Elizabeth, New Jersey were found giving residents unnecessary medication.

“Only one nurse was having medication error issues and she has been let go,” said
Hachaim Rottenberg, administrator of Plaza Health Care. Rottenberg said he took over management after that inspection.

In Brooklyn, the Concord Nursing Home failed to refill oxygen tanks resulting in the hospitalization of three residents. Requests for an interview or comment were declined.

Administrators are Woodmere declined our request for an interview or comment for this story.

ProPublica Investigative Journalist Charles Ornstein believes low staffing ratios are likely to blame for many of the problems at nursing homes and specifically with residents wandering off.

Ornstein and his colleague, Lena Groeger, organized more than 100,000 detailed nursing home inspection reports into a searchable nationwide database.

In New Jersey there are required minimum staff levels at nursing homes based on the number of residents. There is no such requirement in New York.

"When we talk to family members they're almost always really surprised that there are no staffing standards,” said Richard Mollot, head of the Long Term Community Care Coalition. 

Mollot said 1-in-4 senior citizens will end up in a nursing home and he wants Medicare and Medicaid to stop paying facilities that rack up violations.

Nationwide, 75% of nursing home care is paid by Medicare and Medicaid and that included the care for Dennis Buckham.

“He don’t deserve to die like that,” said Buckham’s sister. “No, he don’t.”

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