Essex 'memory care' facility reaches settlement with state

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A Maryland-based residential care company will pay $120,000 as part of a settlement with the state over violations at a senior "memory care" facility in Essex.

The attorney general says the settlement resolves claims that Woodbine Senior Living, LLC, violated the Consumer Protection Act by lying about its dementia care to families with residents at Spring Village at Essex.

Some families had just 30 days to find new care for their relatives. Others say their loved ones weren't evicted, but their final days were spent in fear that they could be.

"I will never ever forget that awful feeling," said Bruce Bottamini of Groton, Massachusetts.

He says that the end of life for his wife of 45 years was made even harder by the very place that was supposed to be caring for her.

The former Adamant resident sold their home in central Vermont in 2016 and moved to Essex so that his wife, Phyllis, could live at Spring Village. She had Alzheimer's.

"The promises made by Woodbine that she could age in place and they would provide end-of-life care for her was a critical factor in my decision to take her there," Bottamini said.

But soon after, he realized that Woodbine had lied about what they could provide for his wife and that if she needed a higher level of care, she could be evicted with just a month's notice.

"It was an incredibly painful and gut-wrenching experience," Bottamini said.

"They lied, they put people at risk and that's why they violated Vermont's law," said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan Monday.

Donovan says out of the $120,000 settlement with Woodbine, $60,000 is going to the state, $10,000 to the local Alzheimer's chapter and $1,000 to each of the 48 families affected.

"It's never enough -- does not even come close to being enough," he said.

The buildings at the Essex facility remain, though it has changed ownership and is now Maple Ridge Memory Care.

"Elder care is big business now," Donovan said. He says the AG's office and the Department of Aging and Independent Living have launched a new guide to educate Vermonters about their options for elder care.

"It's incredibly confusing for any member of the public to understand the differences between a nursing home, an assisted living care residence, a residential care home," said Jamie Renner, who is leading up the AG's elder protection initiative.

With the percentage of aging Vermonters on the rise, they hope spelling out the differences between facilities will help families like Mia Groff's know which places can care for their loved ones, like her mother.

"Families of individuals with dementia place their trust in facilities that care for our loved ones" Groff said. "We hope that when we place our families in residential care -- which is so costly that it depletes an entire life's savings -- that the facility will actually be equipped to provide the care that they promise."

As part of the settlement with the state, Woodbine isn't allowed to do business in the state of Vermont anymore, something Donovan called extreme, but important to protect families.

Officials at Woodbine did not return calls for comment on the settlement.