CLEVELAND — COVID tests were falsified at a local nursing home, a state investigation found, and now children of those who died from COVID are speaking out to News 5 Investigators.
“I can’t even put together a basket of all of the feelings, you know? Anger, frustration, anxiety,” said Rob Singer.
We’ll get to his story in a moment, but first we want to mention there are multiple lawsuits now filed against Montefiore nursing home in Beachwood following an examination by state and federal investigators last year.
CAROLE KENNEY RESIDED AT MONTEFIORE
Carol Kenney had dementia and had been in Montefiore of Menorah Park about a year-and-a-half. Her daughter Erica Card remembered going to visit Kenney one day late last year.
“She was almost non-responsive and she wasn’t very talkative,” said Card. She told us her 73-year-old mom did not look well.
“She was slumped over in her wheelchair,” said Card. “And my mother’s usually the one that won’t sit in a wheelchair.” Card told us she demanded they take Kenney to the hospital, and they found out she had COVID.
“I was shocked,” said Card. “I thought she was in good hands.”
MARLENE FINKENTHAL WAS A RESIDENT
Robyn Finkenthal Kulbarsh said her 81-year-old mother Marlene Finkenthal was at Montefiore during the same time.
“My mother had woken up completely disoriented,” said Robyn. Finkenthal contracted COVID and Robyn was very concerned.
“They were pre-existing medical conditions that put her at high risk for her not doing well with COVID,” said Robyn.
GLORIA SINGER WAS THERE, TOO
“It’s kind of shocking,” said Singer of his 81-year-old mom Gloria Singer. She was living at Montefiore and came down with COVID, too. “You want to be there to try and comfort them and to spend time, but you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” said Rob.
Kenney, Finkenthal, and Singer eventually died from COVID.
“I think they robbed me of my mother,” said Card about the nursing home. In fact, they all feel that way.
INVESTIGATION: 'SUBMITTED FALSE SAMPLES'
According to state documents, an investigation by the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, or CMS, found Montefiore “…failed to ensure…accurate COVID-19 testing was done for 35 residents.”
“Not only was it a disgrace, it was shameful. It was harmful,” said Robyn.
“It was stupefying,” said Rob. “I couldn’t understand why something so important was being treated so casually.”
The investigation led to the termination of Montefiore’s Administrator, Director of Nursing, and Assistant Director of Nursing after the state concluded they “failed to collect samples from the affected residents and submitted false samples to the laboratory.”
Documents show shortly after, “…22 residents, many of whom displayed symptoms, tested positive.” It further states the falsifications “…placed all 183 residents (of Monfefiore) at risk for the likelihood of harm, complications and/or death.”
We asked for an on-camera interview with Montefiore. We were denied. A spokesperson released a statement (see below) about the testing controversy saying in part it was “…an isolated and unfortunate incident.”
“And that just re-traumatizes me because I don’t consider this whole thing an unfortunate incident,” said Robyn.
“These aren’t cases over stubbed toes,” said Card’s attorney Allen Tittle. “These are deaths, preventable deaths.”
The Montefiore statement also reads in part that its “…response was quick, straightforward and honest…”
“They’re saying what they need to say now, but what did they do when they had the opportunity to prevent this?” said Robyn’s attorney Howard Mishkind.
In 2020, Ohio passed a state law saying nursing homes can’t be sued because of COVID deaths, but Mishkind told us that law doesn’t apply to what he called reckless negligence and willful disregard for safety.
“(We need to) send a message that the people in Ohio, in Cuyahoga County are not going to tolerate their loved ones being placed in harm’s way,” said Mishkind.
Montefiore’s statement says it “cannot comment on specifics of cases currently in active litigation.”
Court records filed by Montefiore lawyers deny wrongdoing and state the nursing home “…had no reason to anticipate” the actions of the employees. However, the plaintiffs’ attorneys don’t believe this is just a case of rogue nurses falsifying results.
“There’s no doubt in my mind the reason at the end of the day will be profits over people, we got to put a stop to that,” said Tittle.
“Can you specifically tie the falsification of records directly to Mr. Singer’s mother’s death?” we asked.
“Yes. We have an infectious disease expert,” said Rob’s attorney Ken Abbarno.
MORE LAWSUITS FILED
The accused nurses have sued Montefiore for wrongful dismissal and the nursing home has countersued.
“Families are trying to find answers and what they’d like is accountability,” said Abbarno. “And what we see is gamesmanship going on with our legal system.”
MONTEFIORE'S FINE REDUCED
The home was fined by CMS nearly $317,000. However, News 5 Investigators uncovered that Montefiore claimed financial hardship and got the fine reduced to $80,000.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” said Rob. “That’s disappointing.”
“What’s the value of life?” said Tittle.
“Is it $80,000?” we asked.
“Not where I come from,” said Tittle.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s outrageous. It’s inexcusable,” said Mishkind.
The children of Kenney, Finkenthal, and Singer said what happened cost them all so much.
“She was an energetic and loving person,” said Rob about his mother.
“I lost the opportunity to hold my mom’s hand to what I call singing her home,” said Robyn.
“Everything that I am today, the standards I have, the drive that I have is because of my mother,” said Card.
News 5 Investigators found a Cuyahoga County Court filing stating the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into what happened at Montefiore. The AG’s Office said it couldn’t confirm or deny there’s an investigation.
There are several more lawsuits against Montefiore aside from the families we talked to for this report.
Here’s Montefiore’s full statement:
“Approximately a year ago, an isolated and unfortunate incident occurred at Montefiore regarding COVID-19 testing. Consistent with our mission and values, our response was quick, straightforward and honest. We also made certain to inform those closest to us including our residents, families, staff and board.
We acted in full knowledge that our decision would likely lead some people to take legal action against us. Accordingly, we weren’t surprised that close to the time of the anniversary of our notifications, a number of lawsuits were filed.
While we continue to address the repercussions of the incident from a year ago, we want to thank our caring community and the broader community-at-large for all of the support we have received over the past year. We especially want to offer our thanks to the community for acknowledging our heroic staff who have shown up every day during this pandemic to do the essential work of caring for our residents with dedication. We want to thank them for continuing to trust and support us. It means so much to us to have the backing of our community at times like this.
With regard to lawsuits filed against Montefiore, we continue to respect the process, so we cannot comment on specifics of cases currently in active litigation.”