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Southwest IL nursing home loses funding over failed inspections. It's closing this week

Belleville News-Democrat - 7/14/2022

Jul. 14—A metro-east nursing home that will close Thursday lost public funding after six months of failed inspections involving COVID-19 infections, staff shortages and management issues.

New Athens Home for the Aged has until Thursday to move residents to new facilities to care for them, according to Tarrah Vaupel, a member of the nursing home's board.

New Athens Home is a 53-bed nonprofit facility located at 203 S. Johnson St. in New Athens.

Leaders from the nursing home board and the current administrator could not be reached for comment on the situation after multiple calls to the facility.

Vaupel declined to discuss the reasons for the closure but said she and the rest of the board are "completely grief-stricken." Vaupel started a GoFundMe online fundraiser last week to raise money to support and show appreciation for the employees with things like meals until the closure.

"We never thought that this day would happen," she said. "We're just incredibly sad. We're grieving along with the residents, the staff, the community. It's a very difficult time for everyone."

Government oversight agencies terminated the nursing home from Medicaid and Medicare on June 14 because it failed to meet "minimum regulatory standards" since Dec. 14, 2021, according to Illinois Department of Public Health spokesman Mike Claffey. Medicaid and Medicare are the largest funding sources for long-term care service providers like nursing homes.

Payments for existing residents continued until July 14.

Illinois State Ombudsman Kelly Richards said ombudsmen, or resident advocates, went to New Athens Home to inform residents about their rights during a closure, including the fact that they have a choice in where they would go. Richards said community ombudsmen will also follow-up with former New Athens Home residents who get transferred to new facilities.

Last summer, another nonprofit nursing home in the metro-east shuttered. Faith Countryside Homes in Highland closed June 10, 2021, due to financial issues made worse by the pandemic.

State inspection findings at New Athens Home

New Athens Home for the Aged had received the most serious citation available to regulators in December because four residents died after a COVID-19 outbreak.

According to state reports from January, April, May and June, other inspections found the following violations:

New Athens Home did not have enough employees to answer resident call lights, help them to the toilet and shower and give them their medications due to staff shortages. A resident told the state in May, "I do not feel like I am getting the care I should be getting."

The administrator talked to residents in December about staffing, according a state inspection report that cited meeting minutes from the facility's resident council.

During the council meeting, the administrator noted the amount paid to the workers for each shift to provide the amount of care the residents required and said "Medicaid rates are terrible," according to the state's report.

Three administrators who led the nursing home in the six-month period each did not have a license. They told the state and nursing home board they had either a temporary license or a lapsed license they were working to renew.

The nursing home did not have a director of nurses in January. By May, the director of nurses who had been selected said they were leaving the job, telling a state inspector, "There are so many things going on here I do not think I can fix all of them." (A new director took over.)

The nursing home's board was not actively involved in overseeing the facility. Employees told the state that board members did not come into the facility until residents or employees called them to complain and they spoke only to the administrator. The state also interviewed a board member, who said they are "only an advisory board, not an acting board."

Residents in 'immediate jeopardy' because of COVID

According to a Dec. 14 inspection report, New Athens Home did not take precautionary measures to protect residents from a newly-admitted resident who was not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when he arrived Nov. 1. The state said residents' health or safety was in "immediate jeopardy."

"Immediate jeopardy" is the most serious citation level for nursing homes.

New Athens Home did not test the new resident for COVID-19 and it did not quarantine him to watch for possible symptoms of the disease before he was allowed to be around other residents in the dining room and a hallway, state inspectors wrote in their report. At the time, 40 residents were receiving care at the facility.

The new resident had to be sent to the emergency room a few days after his admission, and he tested positive for COVID-19 while he was there. After that, 13 more residents and six employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health's investigation.

Four of the residents, including the newly-admitted resident, died either from COVID-19 or complications from the disease, the state report said.

Nursing home officials told the state during its investigation that the new resident's admission date was a facility-wide testing day, but he arrived after the testing had finished.

New Athens Home received a $267,920 fine after the December inspection: $217,920 from the federal oversight agency for nursing homes and $50,000 from the state.

This story was originally published July 14, 20225:00 AM.


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