How some Ohio nursing homes are putting the lives of society's most vulnerable at risk

Six months ago, News 5 Investigators began looking into the case of a local father, whose son had many questions about his dad’s health and experiences at a Strongsville nursing home. In the midst of our investigation, we uncovered eye-opening violations in Northeast Ohio’s most problematic nursing homes, with some including severe infractions that led to death. So we wondered how difficult it really was to get answers, and whether or not these facilities would own up to their past problems. What we found may surprise you.

‘I don’t believe I am the only one’

Donald Gallick Sr. was a man called hard-working. He was a man called helpful. He was also a man called “Dad” by his son, Donald. 

“Always willing to do what needed to be done,” the younger Donald says of his dad. “He appreciated sports, a Buckeye fan…a hard worker, faced any challenge, very easy to talk to.” 

But as he got older, Donald Gallick Sr. began having health issues. He suffered a minor stroke and it became difficult for him to drive or walk. 

“One day, I came over, and he had tripped on a chair,” said the younger Donald, a lawyer who deals with healthcare fraud. “And I found him lying on the ground for the better part of a day.” 

Now, the younger Donald can’t stop wondering, ‘What if?’, when it comes to whether or not his dad received the best care while he was in Falling Water Healthcare Center in Strongsville in 2013. He questioned how his father was treated there, but believes he didn’t get the answers he needed. 

“I want to know, is this being treated?” he questioned. “What is actually the diagnosis? Is he going to walk again?”

Ohio Nursing Homes: Is your family affected? Check our interactive map here.

Donald Gallick Sr. passed away at another facility in 2014.

“…This was my experience,” he said. “And I don’t believe I am the only one.”

The Gallicks’ story is one of many, as numerous nursing homes in Northeast Ohio have racked up thousands in fines and low ratings by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

How local facilities rack up

CMS has fined Falling Water nearly $33,000 for violations in the past three years. Our research found that amount was about the middle of the pack for our area. 

In 2014, Falling Water lost one of its residents who was later found in a restaurant across a major five-lane city highway, and he didn’t know where he was, according to a state inspection report.

Past violations there also include issues with administering medication, preventing falls and failing to report alleged abuse. As of May 10, Falling Water received two stars out of a 5-star rating set by CMS, with 1-star being the worst. 

View the inspection report for Falling Water here.

Essex Healthcare of Tallmadge is another facility that has been fined by CMS. The facility recently went from a 1-star to a 2-star nursing home, but it’s had more than $58,000 in fines in the last three years. 

State inspections show incidents that placed residents at risk, and another incident where a resident died in Essex’s care. Other deficiencies found at Essex include not giving patients privacy, not helping people bathe and not filing injury reports. 

View the inspection report for Essex Healthcare here.

An inspection from less than two years ago shows Lake Pointe Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a special focus facility (SFF) in Conneaut, “failed to ensure a resident was free from emotional and psychological abuse.” It was rated a 1-star facility as of May 10. 

[NOTE: In a version of this story that aired in the 6 a.m. newscast May 12, News 5 inadvertently used video of a different nursing home that has the same name as Lake Pointe Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. We apologize for the error, and the video in the player above has been updated.]

View the inspection report for Lake Pointe Rehabilitation and Nursing Center here.

There are four severity levels of harm as defined by CMS. These severity levels help determine enforcement actions taken against nursing homes, who are found not in compliance with federal requirements. According to CMS, the levels are determined by the impact each home’s deficiencies has on its residents. 

The four severity harm levels are:

  • No actual harm with potential for minimal harm
  • No actual harm with a potential for more than minimal harm that is not immediate jeopardy
  • Actual harm that is not immediate jeopardy
  • Immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety

An immediate jeopardy is described by CMS as “a situation in which the facility’s noncompliance with one or more requirements of participation has caused, or is likely to cause, serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.”

Hidden camera: How difficult is it to get answers?

As part of this News 5 investigation, we wanted to see if nursing facilities with some of the highest fines would be honest with the public about their past deficiencies and immediate jeopardies.

So we sent an On Your Side producer to some of these nursing homes, requesting to speak to a supervisor and asking questions anybody would ask if they were interested in learning more about the homes.

Specifically, our producer went to Essex and asked a manager about the facility’s past inspections. She told us there had never been a “jeopardy” at the facility. 

But we found that’s not true. A state inspection from July 2015 shows an immediate jeopardy, where a patient who’s “not supposed to have smoking materials” was “found smoking unsupervised in his room while using oxygen.” 

In another state report from just a year and a half ago, Essex also “failed to provide necessary care and services” for a resident who had “a critically high blood glucose level.” This resident ended up dying, and two nurses lost their jobs in connection with the incident. 

We also sent our producer to Lake Pointe Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Conneaut to ask about its inspections. A supervisor told us there hasn’t been any physical or verbal abuse at the facility in the past. 

But an inspection report from less than two years ago shows Lake Pointe “failed to ensure a resident was free from emotional and psychological abuse.” It detailed specifics. The resident reported a nurse’s aide “dropped soiled linen on his feet” and “walked away laughing.” 

Other residents complained about the same aide, according to the inspection report, for smacking a hand and being “a little forceful” and “mean and rude.” That same report said “the facility failed to ensure (2 residents) were free from verbal abuse”, including a nursing assistant who said “F-U” to a resident.”

Investigator Jonathan Walsh went back to these facilities with questions and news cameras. Supervisors declined to speak about these issues. 

 

Holding nursing homes accountable

Experts in nursing home healthcare stressed they want to see more accountability for facilities fined by CMS.

Beverley Laubert, the state long-term care ombudsman, told us she is frustrated by staffing levels, turnover rate and employee education at nursing homes.

Nursing home complaints to her office increased 6,700 in 2013 to 8,700 in 2015.

“We really have a variety of problems that we see,” said Laubert, who works with the Ohio Department of Health looking into quality of care in nursing homes. “I would like to see more focused training. I would like to see greater accountability for staffing numbers.”

Ohio Nursing Homes: Is your family affected? Check our interactive map here.

She said the Ohio Department of Health has to inspect each nursing home once every nine to 15 months. Special Focus Facilities, however, have inspections every six months.

 

According to Laubert, Ohio can only have up to five special focus facilities at any one time. But she said there are so many poorly-run nursing homes in the state.

 

“What’s unfortunate is once a facility graduates from the list, another facility gets put on the list,” Laubert said. “So we always have five.”

One way to hold nursing facilities accountable is to terminate Medicare and Medicaid payments. But according to CMS, there were seven total terminations for the whole state in three years, and not one is in our area.

 

Laubert also said the Ohio Department of Health rarely revokes nursing home licenses. We wanted to ask state officials about large fines and serious violations we found, as well as why nursing homes are rarely shut down. The Ohio Department of Health declined an on-camera interview, but a spokesperson said, “The reports speak for themselves.”

 

Paul Grieco, a Cleveland attorney who’s dealt with nursing home cases for years, said complaints are increasing. 

A 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found: 

  • An estimated 22 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced adverse events during their stays at skilled nursing facilities
  • An additional 11 percent experienced temporary harm events
  • Physician reviewers determined 59 percent of those adverse events and temporary harm events were “clearly or likely preventable.” They also attributed much of this harm to “substandard treatment, inadequate resident monitoring, and failure or delay of necessary care.”
  • An estimated 1,538 skilled nursing facility residents, or 1.5 percent, experienced “adverse” events that contributed to their deaths during the study month

Fighting for answers

Donald Gallick still reflects on memories of his late father.

“I think about him every day,” Donald said.

News 5 scheduled an interview with Falling Water to discuss Donald Gallick, Senior’s experiences at the facility, but the corporate office later backed out of the interview.

“Everything that I know and my experience in health care…if I can’t get answers, how is anyone else going to answers?” he asked. He encouraged the public to be persistent.

“Don’t take no for an answer when it’s someone like your father or your mother or your grandmother, who is need of healthcare and isn’t getting it,” he added.

Laubert also said she doesn’t want families to settle when it comes to questioning nursing home facilities.

“We don’t want people to accept the status quo,” she said. “We want people to expect excellence. It is their home.”