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Pittsfield nursing home getting help from Mass. officials amid COVID outbreak and allegations of neglect

An N95 mask at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public / NENC
An N95 mask.

A nursing home in Pittsfield that's been the center of neglect allegations from families of residents is getting more help from Massachusetts health officials.

A recent COVID-19 outbreak at Springside Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center sickened dozens of residents and workers and brought to light staffing problems.

Heather Bellow ofThe Berkshire Eaglehas been covering the story and joined us to talk about what the state is doing to assist.

Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle: The nursing home has had a staffing crisis that's actually predated the pandemic, like most nursing homes. And anytime there's a COVID outbreak, things get worse, because staff have to go on quarantine. The state sent out a rapid response team last week. They left Tuesday, and then they came back. They also sent out infection control inspectors and four National Guard members to help.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: Further allegations of neglect were reported to the Eagle by family members of Springside residents after your story about the daughter of a resident calling the police to get her mother out of the facility. What kinds of complaints have you been hearing?

Based on the conversation that the officer had with this woman, he wrote in the police report that her needs are not being met. Her medication is not being given on time. Her daughter is repeatedly hung up on. Her food does not taste right. She does not feel safe, and staff is unattentive. That was what was in the police report.

The daughter grew alarmed. She lives in North Carolina, and she grew very alarmed when she couldn't reach anyone at the facility, or administrators or staff who weren't returning messages. And her mother was calling her constantly, saying, "I'm terrified. Nobody will help me. I couldn't get water. I'm not getting my medication on time." And this is a woman with extensive health problems who really does need to get her medication on time.

And that's the story that I've been hearing from so many families — people who have very sensitive health issues, and their health issues are very sensitive to the timing of their medication, are not getting it on time.

I'm getting calls from other facilities as well, from other people, and other families about similar issues. So this is not confined to Springside, except that Springside has sort of been brought to its knees by this COVID outbreak that started at the end of January.

In this particular case, what do Springside's owners have to say about all of this?

I spoke to the owner of the facility, his name's Kevin Morris. He said that he denies wholeheartedly that there's any neglect going on. And he said that he's very grateful for the rapid response team from the state.

Earlier in the week, I did get a statement from the spokesperson there, who said that the residents' needs are being met, including the resident whose daughter called police.

And as far as the staffing piece goes, Heather, in another story, you wrote about nursing home owners complaining Medicare reimbursements don't cover the cost of care and make it tough to hire and retain workers while others dispute that. What are both sides saying?

The nursing home operators are saying, "We're not getting enough reimbursement money from the state." At Springside, for instance, last I checked, it was I think a $28 per day per resident gap in reimbursement. And so that adds up. "We're losing money" is what the operators are saying. Reform advocates are saying, "They're being cheap. What are they doing with their profits?" That's a whole other story. You know, what are they doing with their profits? Entire armadas of lawyers and journalists are trying to figure out where the profits are going. It's not that easy to find out.

Meanwhile, there's this endless cycle of problems and inspections and citations and fines. And this wheel keeps turning and regulators aren't really regulating, if you talk to reform advocates and families.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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