DHHS confirms probe into unsafe practices under way at city nursing home

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Colonial Hill Center, located at 62 Rochester Hill Road, maintains 79 skilled-nursing beds, according to parent company Genesis HealthCare. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER - A state DHHS long-term care ombudsman confirmed today that the agency is investigating complaints about a Rochester nursing home regarding "critically unsafe nursing staff to patient" ratios and sharing of staff between residents quarantined over COVID-19 concerns and the home's general population.

Maureen Dittmar of Farmington, whose 84-year-old mother is a resident at Colonial Hill Center, received the three-page typed letter from an anonymous source on Saturday and shared a copy of the letter with The Rochester Voice on Monday.

Lori Mayer, a spokesperson for Colonial Hill, said they also received a copy of the letter on Monday.

"We became aware that an anonymous letter was mailed from a staff member to families of patients and residents at Colonial Hill Center," she said in a statement. "We are fully investigating the concerns identified in the letter and have reported those concerns to the Department of Health and Human Services. As part of the investigation, we are reaching out to all families, residents and staff to interview them regarding any concerns they may have."

Some of the concerns aired in the letter reference "a critically unsafe nursing staff to patient" ratio, specifically alleging that often during the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. shift there is just one LNA for 38 residents.

"Many need two staff for basic needs," the letter states. "Some are classified as having 'high risk' behaviors." The letter also indicated many of those on the same floor have falling tendencies.

Even more serious is the letter's claim that staff often go back and forth between a unit where residents are quarantined over COVID concerns and a general population unit set aside for skilled memory care.

Other complaints include that daily dressings often go unchanged, residents not getting their weekly showers or baths and call bells going unanswered for more than 20 minutes.

Michael Lucio, a regional long-term care ombudsmen who covers the central part of the state, said today that the investigation would likely be headed up by the agency's Bureau of Health Facilities. The bureau's director, Kristie Holtz, was not immediately available for comment.

Lucio said New Hampshire has no specific minimum ratios of nurses or nurse's aides to residents but rather goes by the need "to have enough regarding the acuity of those they care for."

Dittmar said today she was glad the letter went out to the relatives so the patients and the staff could have a voice.

"My mom is doing well, and that's good, but the lack of staff is very concerning," she said. "Sometimes my mom needs another person to help her to get up. The worry is patients are at risk cause there's not enough staff."

She said the alleged wait times were also disturbing.

She added that she hopes the person who wrote the letter is not punished for being a whistleblower.

Genesis HealthCare, which owns Colonial Hill Center, operates 500 skilled nursing centers and assisted/senior living residences in 34 states.

Colonial Hill Center has 79 skilled nursing beds.

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