Nursing home owners face felony charges after quality declines at former county-owned facility

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In 2014, the Otsego County nursing home had 298 employees. By 2016 — under new, private ownership — that number was down to 225, despite immediate jeopardy findings and plenty of other regulatory and staff warnings about quality of care.

Although those first owners resold the 174-bed facility late last year, New York's Attorney General's Office has filed felony charges against them, charging two executives with endangering the welfare of patients.

Operator-owner Joseph Zupnik and Daniel Herman, a top-level manager, were arraigned May 31 on three counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a felony; two counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a class A misdemeanor; and  three counts of willful violation of health laws, an unclassified misdemeanor.

The men ran Focus Otsego, which was operated by CCRN, which was owned almost entirely by Zupnik, according to The Daily Star.

“Upon taking ownership and control of the home's operation in October 2014, Zupnik, Herman and CCRN cut staff payroll, cut staffing and cut other necessary services and supplies needed to provide safe and adequate care to more than 200 individual residents who were in the care of Focus through at least November 29, 2016, when Focus was designated as a Special Focus Facility by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” read the state's complaint.

The Attorney General's office said CCRN disregarded communications from local and federal officials and senior staff “that residents were at risk for harm.”

Those missed opportunities for improvement included:

  • State health inspection surveys and reports that contained immediate jeopardy findings in 2015 and 2016.
  • Warnings from senior managers about the defendants' 50% cuts in payroll and staffing and required double shifts.
  • Six arrests between May 2015 and August 2016 of Focus staff for crimes at the facility involving healthcare offenses. These included neglect of a 91-year-old fall victim and a 94-year-old woman who developed a pressure sore after 41 hours in a recliner.
Attorneys for both men downplayed the charges to The Daily Star.

“These are just allegations,” Richard S. Harrow, attorney for Zupnik and the corporation, said Thursday. “We're working with the Attorney General's Office.”

The newspaper reported Jerry Solomon, an attorney for Herman, echoed those comments.

Otsego County owned and operated the nursing home in question before selling it to Focus for $18.5 million. Many communities have grappled with how to operate public nursing homes in an era of declining reimbursement and increasing liability. Some find themselves dealing with bidders who have limited experience in the skilled nursing arena.

Focus has since been resold to Centers Health Care, which renamed it Cooperstown Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. Centers Health Care isn't mentioned in the complaint, and a representative declined comment to McKnight's.