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Town of Tonawanda nursing home hit with $53,000 federal fine after resident death

Buffalo News - 8/9/2022

Aug. 8—One of Western New York's most penalized nursing homes has been slapped with a nearly $53,000 federal fine after a resident fell to her death from a third-floor window earlier this year.

The fine against Safire Rehabilitation of Northtowns in the Town of Tonawanda is tied to an inspection completed Feb. 10, two days after 78-year-old Judith Schrecengost was found dead in the courtyard directly below Room No. 306 at the 2799 Sheridan Drive facility.

Inspectors reached the conclusion that Schrecengost, a great-grandmother who was born and raised in Niagara Falls, got out of a third-floor window that opened wider than it should have because of an improperly installed bolt. Further, investigators pieced together the incident and determined Schrecengost was not seen by staff for several hours before they realized she was missing.

"Inspectors determined that Safire Rehabilitation of Northtowns failed to ensure a nursing home area was free from accident hazards and failed to provide adequate supervision to prevent accidents," the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in a statement. "As a result, a citation noting immediate jeopardy to resident health and safety was issued."

Safire spokesperson Michael Balboni did not immediately comment on the fine, which CMS records indicate was processed on July 1 but was not posted online until late last month.

Balboni previously told The Buffalo News that Safire filed a correction plan, which was accepted by the state Health Department, and fixed problems with the windows. The correction plan included installing additional window limiters, as well as educating staff on policies for reporting a potential missing resident and possible accident hazards immediately.

Of the more than 4,800 fines CMS has issued to nursing homes this year, the penalty levied against Safire is the 195th-largest fine but is still well behind this year's largest of about $635,000 sent to an Indianapolis facility.

New York's Health Department also could issue a fine to Safire for the incident.

"To protect the health and well-being of nursing home residents, the New York State Department of Health will continue to impose serious penalties against providers who fail to comply with regulatory requirements," Health Department spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond said. "The Department's assessment of a potential fine against this facility is ongoing."

From Jan. 1, 2016, through June 13, 2022, Safire received $68,500 in fines from the state Health Department — the 10th-highest amount out of 356 facilities that have been penalized during that time frame, according to a Buffalo News analysis of state data.

The 100-bed nursing home is owned by a downstate group, which purchased the former Sheridan Manor in late 2015 and renamed it Safire Rehabilitation of Northtowns. Richard Platschek, Judy Landa, Solomon Abramczyk and Robert Schuck are the key investors in the limited liability companies that own Safire Northtowns and its sister facility, Safire Rehabilitation of Southtowns in Buffalo.

The two Safire facilities have one-star federal ratings, or "much below average," a measurement based on three sources: health inspections, staffing and quality measures.

Safire Northtowns also is in its third month as a candidate for the federal Special Focus Facility program that identifies the country's poorest-performing nursing homes and inspects them twice as often as other facilities in an effort to boost resident care.

If it is selected as a Special Focus Facility, the nursing home would get a full, on-site inspection of all Medicare health and safety requirements every six months that could recommend progressive enforcement until it either improves and graduates from the program or is terminated from Medicare and Medicaid.

Of the country's more than 15,000 nursing homes, around 440 of them are on the candidate list while nearly 90 are in the Special Focus Facility program, according to the most recent list updated July 27.

The program's goal is to address "the worst of the worst of the worst" nursing homes, said Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization focused on bolstering quality of care in nursing homes and other residential settings.

While Mollot said he believes the program hasn't been that successful, he noted the Biden administration this year said it will overhaul the Special Focus Facility program to make its requirements tougher and more impactful, thus more quickly improving resident care.

"We have to have a mechanism of oversight and meaningful fines that ensure good resident care," Mollot said, "and that providers are really given effective notice that we won't tolerate substandard care and abuse and neglect."


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