SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — It was 9:30 PM when Mary May received a call from her mother Patrica Ward. She was in tears because she had been left laying in bed in her own filth by her caretakers at the nursing home where she lives. This wasn’t the first time she had received a call from her mother and it wasn’t the first time the call came this late.
When Patricia fell ill due to a complication with her liver, it fell on Mary to be her primary caretaker but when her mother suffered a stroke, she decided she needed to find a facility that dealt with physical therapy. She decided on Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse.
In May of last year, when Patricia was left alone, May was left trying to reach the facility by phone and filling out the Syracuse health department’s online complaint form. After a week and a half of calling, someone finally got back to May and a nurse gave her a personal phone number to call.
“I had to constantly be on top of them to do it. And it was the most exhausting, horrible experience on both of our levels,” said May.” I could not be there for her, which was the most helpless feeling in the world.”
Van Duyn, one of 11 nursing homes in Onondaga County, has been the source of numerous accusations and complaints regarding malpractice claims by residents and family members of residents. In 2011, Van Duyn was named by the federal government as being one of the worst nursing homes in the nation. At the time, the facility was owned by Onondaga County; in 2013, the county sold it to Upstate Services Group after promising to improve the facility.
Van Duyn is currently under investigation by Attorney General Letitia James. Van Duyn owners are being looked into by the AG for siphoning Medicaid funds into their own pockets, making it difficult to hire or retain staff. This investigation is ongoing and James has accused Van Duyn of attempting to slow the case.
“These related party transfers occurred through numerous LLCs and other entities that received money from Van Duyn, and then transferred money to the owners and related parties” according to the investigations document.
NCC News called and emailed Van Duyn officials for comment, but received no response.
Some families have attempted to take Van Duyn to court, such as the Casciano family, who attempted to take Van Duyn to court for the wrongful death suit of Leondard Casiano.
Complaints and citations
Van Duyn reported 315 complaints to the New York State Department of Health between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2022, the health department’s website reported as of May 9. That amounts to 68.8 complaints per 100 occupied beds, ranking sixth out of the 14 facilities in the county. Facilities across New York state reported an average of 49.9 complaints per 100 occupied beds.
During that period, the health department issued 34 citations related to those complaints. Of those citations, 20 were related to quality of care, a category that measures whether residents are appropriately supervised to prevent accidents, receive the care and services necessary to function and have their medications administered appropriately, among other requirements.
The health department also conducts standard health inspections, which assess a facility’s quality of care, as well as life safety code inspections, which examine whether a facility meets requirements from the National Fire Protection Agency. Between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2022, the health department issued 78 citations after conducting 20 inspections of Van Duyn in total, and 60 were standard health citations. There were five inspections that did not result in any citations.
During this time, Van Duyn was cited three times for allegedly failing to ensure that residents were not subjected to significant medication errors and that they “maintained acceptable parameters of nutritional status,” respectively. The facility was cited an additional three times for allegedly failing to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse, neglect, mistreatment or exploitation or report allegations to the health department.
In October 2020, Van Duyn was cited after it allegedly did not report a sexual incident between two residents to the health department in a timely manner. After 19 residents allegedly did not receive proper medication, the health department issued a citation in November 2020.
In February 2020, Van Duyn received another citation after the facility allegedly did not address a resident’s deteriorating condition – in which they were unable to eat, drink or take some medications – in a timely manner.
In June 2021, the health department cited Van Duyn partly for allegedly failing to accommodate a family’s request for outside meals when their resident was experiencing “significant weight loss.” When one resident had “an injury of unknown origin,” the facility allegedly did not report the injury to the health department or investigate to confirm it wasn’t caused by abuse, according to details from another June 2021 citation.
In August 2021, the health department issued a citation after Van Duyn allegedly did not complete documented neurological checks for a resident who fell and later died.
All of the 78 citations have since been corrected, according to the health department’s website.
The nursing home had the second-highest total number of citations among the 14 facilities in the county during this period. Bishop Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, also located in Syracuse, had the most, with 91. The statewide average for facilities across New York state was 23 citations.
Treatment at the facility
While at the facility away from her family, Ward said that she was alone and because she had to fend for herself she quickly learned who in the facility she needed to go to for things. Ward said while she was there she tried to develop her own sources among the staff who would try to help her.
Ward, who said caretakers had her use a diaper instead of a bedpan, said that she was left unchanged for long periods of time.
“Once I sat there for seven hours,” said Ward. “There were just a whole lot of care things that didn’t happen, you know, I was at their mercy and they didn’t always change me.
In the past, Ward had worked for a medical malpractice firm and because of this, she was able to recognize the signs of what was wrong with the facility, and felt that they didn’t have enough staff to address the needs of the facility
Despite her treatment within the facility, Ward said that there were still those at Van Duyn, like those helping her with physical therapy, who did their job properly and truly helped her.
The situation affected May as well as her mother; she said she was unable to sleep at night for fear of potentially missing a call from her mother if something went wrong. This was a situation that was made worse as she could not visit her mother due to COVID-19 restrictions and had no idea of how bad things might be.
Now that she is out of Van Duyn, Ward and her daughter are simply looking to move on from the ordeal and look forward with their lives.
“I think she’s definitely stronger than me. I tell her that all the time. She’s a brute. She’s gonna outlive everybody.. She’s doing good now. So that’s all that matters,” said May.