BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Should Vermont regulators have been aware sooner of systemic management problems at four senior residential facilities in South Burlington and St. Albans?
Hundreds of residents and families are still unsure of who will run the Pillsbury homes after the state took temporary receivership back in November. A judge ordered the takeover after reports of food insecurity, misuse of fentanyl patches and rent checks not being processed. Dallas, Texas-based East Lake Capital Management and Andrew White are listed as owners of the facilities. White and his legal team were in court last month fighting to retain the properties. The hearing to determine if a permanent receiver will be put in place is expected to start again next week.
Although many of the problems at Pillsbury were first reported by family members of residents, Vermont officials say their oversight system worked. But some lawmakers say the facilities need to be checked on more frequently.
"The state has a role to ensure people are safe and well protected and the homes are well-run," said Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington.
Pugh chairs the House Committee on Human Services, which looks at state policies to ensure all Vermonters, including those living in senior residential homes, are well taken care.
"Our elders and our senior citizens need as they age to be safe and to know someone is looking after them," Pugh said.
There are 114 residential care homes around Vermont. The Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) oversees those facilities. Contracted registered nurses make unannounced checks at licensed facilities every two years.
"We make sure that long-term care facilities within the state meet minimum regulatory requirements," said DAIL's Clayton Clark.
He says finding problems with facilities is not uncommon. When nurses find things that could be better, a report is made. Facility administrators then develop a plan for correction and follow-up checks occur.
"Most organizations can do things a little bit better," Clark said.
According to state reports from Pillsbury facilities, nurses failed to give medication or oxygen to some residents. No nurse was on duty for a shift one day in July. And on at least two occasions fentanyl patches were misused or stolen.
Clark says it's hard to tell if the state should have stepped in to take action at Pillsbury sooner. He says the majority of the time facilities fix any problems on their own.
"It's only when you see that they're not it becomes an issue that you need to take action on," he said.
Clark says his office also receives complaints from families, residents and staff members at the facilities themselves that could lead to an investigation.
Pugh says questions if relying only on complaints and biannual inspections is enough.
"I think there needs to be oversight more than once every two years and not be solely complaint-driven in the interim. That said, to do that, it's going to require more staff," she said.
We asked Clark if more checks at senior residential homes are a possibility. He said he doesn't believe that would bring any improvements because their office is contacted with complaints frequently, which then could lead to an investigation.