Family of an elderly Alzheimer's patient say photos taken inside Woodcrest Health Center in New Milford, New Jersey, show their mother was left to sit in her own feces with excrement smeared across her face.
The disturbing allegations of neglect are part of a lawsuit against Woodcrest and its parent company, Care One, a New Jersey nursing home operator with dozens of facilities across the Garden State.
"Facilities like this should not be allowed to take care of people," said Susan Baines, the nursing home patient’s daughter.
"Every time we went there it was another issue," said the patient’s son, Steven Paganessi. "She wasn’t being fed. She had fallen. She was covered head to toe in feces."
Tim Hodges, a spokesman for Care One, declined to address specific accusations in the lawsuit, but sent the I-Team a statement insisting Woodcrest is a highly rated nursing home and the legal claims would be fiercely contested in court.
“Woodcrest has served more than 2,000 residents over the last 5 years, and [the] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Nursing Home Compare [rating] reflects that Woodcrest currently has 4 stars out of 5 in Quality Measures,” Hodges said. “CMS’s rating reflects the true quality of the care Woodcrest provides, as opposed to this sensational and improperly filed lawsuit.”
Because many nursing home bills are paid by the Medicare or Medicaid programs, the federal government rates facilities on a variety of performance metrics. Although Woodcrest got 4 out of 5 stars in the “Quality Measures” category -- which includes patient outcomes like how often residents are hospitalized or how often they have bed sores -- CMS gave the facility an overall rating of 1 out of 5 stars because of multiple problems found by health inspectors.
“Although Woodcrest received citations in its annual survey by the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services, the citations were immediately rectified with the state accepting and approving the corrections,” Hodges said.
The lawsuit against Care One refers to the elderly Alzheimer’s patient as “Jane Doe,” because her family fears matching her name to the disturbing pictures of her sitting in feces would deprive her of some of her dignity.
But Care One has asked a judge to dismiss the suit on grounds the patient should not be allowed to remain anonymous.
Family of "Jane Doe" said they believe understaffing is the primary reason their grandmother ended up soiling herself. Her adult children believe nurse aides failed to answer her calls to go to the bathroom so she may have tried to wipe herself – inadvertently smearing feces on her face.
They also contend she broke her hip trying to get to the bathroom when nurse aides failed to answer another of her calls for help getting to the toilet.
“Every staff member you would have contact with would mention that they were understaffed – that they couldn’t keep up with all the patients,” Paganessi said.
Earlier in this year, Gov. Chris Christie declined to sign a bill that would have established minimum staffing standards in the state’s nursing homes.
Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie, suggested the nursing home staffing law was delivered to the Republican's desk too late in the session for him to consider it. “Having the Legislature pass more than 100 bills in such a hasty and scrambled way, praying for them to be rubber stamped, is never a good formula for effectively doing public business,” Murray said in a statement to the I-Team.
It’s now been more than nine months since the nursing home bill made it to Christie’s desk, but he still has not said why he didn’t sign the bill or whether he supports minimum staffing standards in general.
Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus), a co-sponsor of the nursing home legislation, said signing the bill is the ethical thing to do.
"We have to remember that we have a moral obligation to our aging population,” Lagana said. "The people in these facilities are now -- this is the greatest generation. This is the World War II generation that saved all of us."
Care One declined to say how many nurses and nurses’ aides are on staff at the Woodcrest nursing home, but did say that taken as a whole, all of the company’s New Jersey nursing homes provide 53 percent more licensed nursing staff per resident day than the national average.