Patients at rehab tape troubling incidents

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Some Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation & Care Center residents say they are not getting the care they deserve and two vigilantes have set out to document what they see as the rampant injustices there. 

Jeremiah Healy, 65, and his friend, Laurence Dalvito, 62, two residents of the 400-bed facility who say complaints of neglect, lack of privacy and cold food go unaddressed, started recording what they consider troubling incidents at the facility a year ago. 

In March, Mr. Healy — a Kingsbridge resident who has been at KHRCC since 2007 to rehabilitate complications related to his amputated left leg — heard a wheelchair-bound deaf man screaming for help on his floor. The man wanted to go to the bathroom and for eight minutes, Mr. Healy recorded the man pleading for assistance. 

He got out his Sony audiocassette recorder, wheeled it into the hallway and started taping around 7 p.m., he said. He said the begging lasted for more than 15 minutes but that the tape was not rolling the entire time.  

“Please help me. I’m right here. Please help me ... I’ve gotta go to the bathroom there’s nobody to help me, Goddammit,” the man said on the tape.

Mr. Healy speaks into his recorder as a person identified by Mr. Healy as a nursing aide searches for a second person to help lift him out of bed. 

“They let him [expletive deleted] on himself because they’re too goddamn lazy,” Mr. Healy says on the tape.

The female staffer tells Mr. Healy she is going to get a machine, called a Hoyer Lift, to lift him and when Mr. Healy asks why another staffer is not available she says a second person is not allowed to leave his or her assigned area. 

At one point, a staff member other than the one he is speaking to says, “I’m going to break.”

“Yeah, I know, you’re on your break, what do you care? I’m tired of this. This is abuse to residents. This is what you call abuse to a resident,” Mr. Healy says into the recorder. 

An apparently unattended hallway phone rings in the background. 

Mr. Healy said he told an administrator at the facility about the incident, who said she would look into it. 

“That’s the famous line here, ‘We’ll look into it,’” Mr. Healy said in an interview.

After the administration received inquiries into the incident from The Riverdale Press,  administrator Bruce Zarett said he looked into the issue and spoke to staff about it. 

“We do take our responsibility to protect all our residents very seriously,” he said. 

“Issues such as this are out of the ordinary.”

In January, Mr. Healy taped a DOH surveyor meeting with about 15 residents, including Mr. Dalvito.

Residents were recorded talking about what they perceive as of a lack of privacy, including incidents in which staff members barged into rooms without knocking. 

The surveyor seemed shocked.

“I got a group here, boy. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” the surveyor says.

Residents also expressed their distaste for the food, which more than 10 residents said was served ice cold on a regular basis.

They also complained of being served food they are allergic to or are not supposed to eat, even though their meal trays have cards that list their allergies.

One woman said she was served spinach two days prior to the meeting, even though she is on coumadin — a medication to prevent blood clotting — and is not supposed to eat leafy vegetables or excessive amounts of vitamin K. 

Mr. Healy said he needed Benadryl after his face swelled because he was fed seafood, which he is allergic to.

When the surveyor on the tape says she wants to talk about abuse and neglect, residents start heckling and some are laughing.

“I’m like, scared of you people,” the surveyor said.

On the tape, residents also say staff members sometimes lash out against them once they lodge a complaint. 

“I felt like I’ve been retaliated against ... A staff member, first of all, got angry with me because I came up late to go to bed, or what she felt was late so when she was lifting me she jerked me and pulled a muscle. To this day, right now, I can’t participate in my therapy until the x-ray comes back and it’s painful,” a female resident says on tape. 

Other residents, specifically those who speak Spanish, said retaliation comes in the form of verbal abuse. 

Mr. Healy has filed complaints with the New York State Department of Health about what he said were faulty glucose meters — something he needs to keep his diabetes in check — and the facility’s lack of Spanish-speaking interpreters.

Both complaints were found unsubstantiated after off-site investigations were conducted, but they were added to the facility’s complaint profile, which is reviewed before its annual survey.

The most recent Medicare.gov grade for KHRCC is an overall two-star rating, with two stars for health inspections, based on the DOH survey. The overall rating is based on three categories: health inspections, nursing staffing and quality measures.

KHRCC has been under the New York State Department of Health receivership since 2009. 

In 2008, the facility’s owner Helen Sieger stopped paying into benefit funds for staff members and more than 200 workers went on strike. 

In August 2008, Ms. Sieger was arrested on charges that she violated the state workers’ compensation law. Later that month, she lost a court battle with 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East over contract negotiations and violations of the National Labor Relations Act. A judge ordered Ms. Sieger to pay into funds for workers’ health care and benefits, ending the six-month strike. 

In 2009, after workers, members of the community and local politicians joined together to demand her removal, the DOH intervened, removed Ms. Sieger and appointed William Pascocello as a receiver. Mr. Pascocello has all the same responsibilities of an owner. Mr. Zarett oversees everyday operations of the facility.

“Since the receivership, everything we do in the facility has the residents’ best interest in mind. We do put resident care first. Certainly all issues that we are made aware of we investigate,” Mr. Zarett said in a recent phone interview. 

Residents have access to three different help hotlines to complain about such issues. Each floor at KHRCC bears a sign with the number for the DOH complaint hotline, as well as an in-house complaint hotline and the number to reach an ombudsman — a volunteer mediator between the facility, the DOH and patients.

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