OTSEGO – Joseph Zupnik and Daniel Herman, the former executives at Focus Otsego who were charged with multiple counts of Willful Violation of Health Laws and Endangering the Welfare of the residents, plead guilty to one count of the eight-count indictment, Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled person, in the Town of Otsego Court just moments ago.
Now we know, lives indeed may be at stake.
Two top executives of Focus Ventures have been arrested on eight counts involving two residents of the county’s former nursing home, Otsego Manor. (The county sold the Manor to Focus in January 2014, for $18.5 million, and Centers Health Care bought it from Focus in January for an undisclosed sum.)
Five of the counts are “endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.” The other three are “willful violation of health laws.”
Two patients were involved. The first, identified as M.B., was a celebrated case. She was left untended in a wheelchair throughout Memorial Day Weekend 2016. Several nurses and aides faced criminal charges as a result. The second, now known to be Robert Banta, longtime chair of the Otsego County Soil & Water Conservation board; the conservation center on Route 33, Town of Middlefield, is named in his honor. He fell on June 17, 2015, the night he moved into Focus, hit his head, and died a week later.
Arrested and arraigned May 31 in Otsego Town Court in Fly Creek were
Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik and Daniel Herman, a
partner in the company.
The company that operated Focus Otsego, CCRN
Operator, was also charged.
On the one hand, there’s hope in this piece of bad news, hope that nursing-home operators can’t recklessly cut staff and not be held responsible for deadly consequences.
Two weeks before, another piece of bad news, that Centers, Focus’ successor, had unilaterally raised “private pay” rates from $320 to $510 a day, the highest in New York State – Long Island and New York City included – caused a sense of despair. (Since, Centers has rolled it back to $410.)
With federal reimbursement policies forcing public nursing homes into private hands, can nothing be done to ensure the new private owners provide satisfactory care to our most vulnerable fellow citizens?
Recently, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, vice chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives and chairman of its Human Services Committee, wrote a letter in response to an editorial urging the county board take more responsibility for the former Otsego Manor.
Having sold the Manor, he said, the county board no longer has responsibility for what happens there. This is not to beat up on Koutnik: His opinion is widely shared among county representatives.
The Zupnik-Herman arrests prompt us to repeat our point, and expand on it.
At the very least, the county board should have a representative at every meeting of the Centers (formerly Focus) Family Council. Medicaid regulations require nursing homes that accept federal reimbursement to have such councils. It is the only opportunity for the public to be briefed and ask questions of administrators.
Our state senator and assemblymen should do the same. And certainly, Congressman John Faso, R-Kinderhook, or any Democrat who might defeat him this fall should follow suit – after all, federal reimbursement policies forced the county to sell excellent Otsego Manor to profit-powered entities.
Since, who hasn’t heard stories with dismay about the degradation of service locally?
Regardless, the Zupnik-Herman indictments are excellent news, whatever the resolution of the court case.
The indictments, by the state Attorney General’s Office, send the message loud and clear: Top executives of nursing-home corporations may be exempt from the common decency in the search for profits, but they aren’t exempt from the criminal code.
What’s needed is whistle-blowers, not just private citizens, but the officials we elected to take care of us, who have greater clout in forcing action than the rest of us.
(In this case, that might indeed have already happened; if so, bravo.)
OPEN MIC – 7-9 p.m. Share your stories of discovery about the world, yourself. Roots Brewing Company, 175 Main St., Oneonta. Call (607) 433-2925 or visit www.facebook.com/RootsBrewingCompany/
SPAGHETTI FUNDRAISER – 4:30-6:30 p.m. “A Day for Kevin” to support Kevin Kenny as he deals with a serious ongoing health issue. Menu includes, spaghetti, Salad, Garlic Bread, Dessert. RSVP by 9/25, cost $10. Focus Otsego, 128 Phoenix Mills Cross Rd, Cooperstown. Call 544-2627 or visit www.facebook.com/FocusOtsego/
INDEX – Focus Otsego announced moments ago that the facility, along with the property in Utica, is being sold to Centers Health Care, the largest post-acute health care company in the Northeast.
“It has become increasingly difficult for operators of just one or two nursing facilities to compete economically in the current health care environment,” said Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik in a statement. “In Centers Health Care, we have found a solution with the resources and expertise to help us more effectively guide these two great properties and eventually take them to next level.”
Centers Health Care is the largest and most complete post-acute health care continuum in the Northeast, with 33 skilled nursing and rehab facilities spanning New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, two Assisted Living programs, seven Adult Day Health Care facilities, several home care companies, and Centers Plan for Healthy Living, a Managed Long Term Care company.
INDEX – A Focus Otsego employee has been arrested for possessing a hypodermic needle and for stealing money from a co-worker’s car, the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department reports.
Karina Preston, Oneonta, was arrested Dec. 15 after a co-worker complained he had witnessed her go into his truck in the Focus Otsego parking lot without his permission. According to the police report, he and his fellow co-workers watched Preston as she searched “through my property between the seats and above the visors.” When he checked the truck later, a bank envelope containing money was missing from the visor.
LPN Amanda Gus and CNA Sarah Schuyler plead guilty to falsifying business records during their appearance yesterday before Judge Gary Kuch in the Town of Otsego court.
As part of her plea, Schuyler admitted to “never approaching” the woman, listed in court records as “M.P.” over her day shifts on May 29 and 30, but documenting that she had fed her two meals, done a skin check, washed and "toileted" her.
To Learn How You Can Help Area Families This Holiday Season CLICK HERE.
SANTA’S COTTAGE –2 p.m. Decorating Party. Help Cooperstown Committee decorate Santa’s cottage and the village lampposts for the holidays. All decorations provided; please bring wirecutters, gloves, and ladders, if available. Meet in Pioneer Park. Free photo of your family in front of Santa’s Cottage as a thank you. To reserve a pole, email Meg Kiernan, email@example.com Meet in Pioneer Park, Cooperstown.
CELEBRATE NATIVE AMERICAN MONTH – 1 p.m. Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the El Nu Abenaki tribe of Vermont, will tell traditional tales and display tools and crafts of Northeastern woodland cultures. Program is free and open to the public. Suny Oneonta College Camp Lodge, 119 Hoffman Rd., Oneonta. For more info call 436-3455 or CLICK HERE.
PROGRAM – 3 p.m. “The Very Greatest Victory: Recognizing Women’s Right to Vote in NY State” with Dr. Susan Goodler. Friends of the Village Library Lecture Series. Village Meeting room, Library, 22 Main St., Cooperstown. Info @ Sunday Programs page villagelibraryofcooperstown.org
INDEX – In the wake of four arrests for neglect over the summer, Focus Otsego and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) have reached an agreement to increase wages and hire more local staff in an effort to provide better care for residents, according to a media release.
“This is a clear example of our union, our members and the employer working toward a common goal to provide better, high quality healthcare,” said Robert Compani, Director of Private Sector facilities for CSEA.
Under the wage adjustments, an entry-level certified nursing assistant (CNA) will earn a base wage of $12 an hour, which can increase to up to $14.25.