UNION COUNTY — Just one day after the county handed over Runnells Specialized Hospital to a private management company, 30 nursing assistants failed to show up for work and as a result patient care deteriorated quickly and the state is now monitoring the situation.
Things came to a head last week after complaints were filed with the state health department by families of both private pay and Medicaid patients. Since then the state agency that licenses, regulates and annually inspects nursing home facilities is continuing to closely monitor Runnells.
Monday the state provided an explanation for what took place since Dec. 16, filling in blanks that patient families were unaware had even transpired.
According to the state Department of Health Director of Communications Donna Leusner, the state first received complaints Dec. 29, and made an inspection of the facility the following day. Subsequent inspections were performed on Jan. 1, 2 and 5. Leusner said that as soon as Center Management was left without nursing staff they immediately “self-imposed or voluntarily” stopped all new admissions until the staffing issue was resolved. The state followed up Dec. 31, she said, with a formal order curtailing any new admissions.
The letter, which LocalSource obtained, pointed out that Runnells had stopped all admissions on their own but the state was formally backing that up until the staffing situation and patient care issues were resolved.
“This action is being taken as a result of a recommendation from Health Facility Survey and Field Operations to address serious deficiencies identified during the complaint investigation survey on Dec. 30, 2014,” the letter addressed to Runnells Administrator Michael Hotz indicated.
The stopping of all new admissions remains in effect until the state health department recommends Runnells is in compliance. Center Management Group is also entitled to a “prompt hearing” at the state Office of Administrative Law, if they wish to challenge any assessment of penalties.
The owners of the facility have 30 days to request such a hearing, but regardless of the outcome, Center Management Group could receive a penalty of up to $2,500 for each day it is found violations pertaining to the care of residents were not corrected.
The facility could also receive fines of $250 a day for each resident neglected as a result of the violations found by state health department investigation.
Leusner, though, said the state did not find any other significant violations and Center Management Group was working with the state to bring staffing back to normal.
“They are being cooperative and are trying to hire additional staff as quickly as possible,” the state health department communications director said.
Other sources connected to Runnells said Center Management had moved nursing staff from their Lincoln Park Facility and had hired 12 nursing assistants.
The county reacted to the situation at Runnells Tuesday with a statement.
“During its final state inspection under county management prior to the sale, Runnells Hospital had received one of the highest ratings in recent history. Center Management received a pristine facility in the sale, and it is incumbent upon them to continue to provide a high standard of care to patients under their watch. We are aware they are cooperating with the state in working to resolve staffing issues and hope for a quick resolution to this matter,” said Union County Communications Director Sebastian D’Elia on behalf of the freeholder board.
Center Management Group owns multiple nursing facilities, and most recently paid $145 million to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for five of their nursing homes and two senior living facilities.
Allegations that patients were not receiving the care they received prior to Center Management Group taking over the facility were reported to LocalSource by families late last week. Each said the situation became evident Dec. 16, but patient care continued to decline as the days went on.
Several of the family members who have relatives at the facility said that prior to the county selling Runnells there were at least four nurses and many more certified nursing assistants tending to patients on each shift, but that all changed Dec. 16.
It was at that point, the state health department said 30 certified nursing assistants did not show up to work, leaving the loved ones of many families with little or no patient care. Several said they were bringing on private duty nurses to care for their relatives, while others said they were in the process of making arrangements to move their family members to other nursing facilities.
Many noted there was only one registered nurse on each shift for every 37 patients and one nursing assistant instead of the normal six to eight. Some patient family members reported that administration staff were feeding patients, but noted other problems began to pile up such as the facility running out of adult diapers and patients not being given medication on time or at all.
One family member said Saturday their mother-in-law had not been out of bed in well over a week and critical needs were not being cared for as well. Of concern was the fact that many patients could not feed, bathe or get out of bed on their own.
Initially families of patients that contacted LocalSource were in the dark about why nursing care had declined so quickly.
Most said that when they made inquiries they were not told what had occurred, only that the facility had changed hands and they were adjusting staff. Many were surprised to hear 30 nurses had not reported to work the day after the private company took over Runnells, pointing out that families should have been informed.
LocalSource was unable to confirm why the nurses did not show up for work, and Center Management could not be reached for comment.