Desire for profits affected staffing, services, lawsuit claims

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A desire to maximize profits led to understaffing at three North Carolina assisted living communities and “residents [who were] left to sit for hours, even days, in their own waste, not bathed for weeks, locked in or out of their rooms, not provided with food or housekeeping services, and not timely provided with medications, if they were provided their medications at all,” according to a lawsuit that has been filed against Saber Healthcare Group, owner and operator of the communities, and related companies. Plaintiffs' attorneys said they are hoping to have the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of two former residents of one of the communities, certified as a class action for the hundreds of people who have been residents of the company's Tar Heel state memory care units since 2012.

“We dispute and will vigorously defend the allegations,” Gregory Nicoluzakis, Saber's general counsel, told McKnight's Senior Living.

Those allegations are against Franklin Manor Assisted Living Center in Youngsville, NC; Gabriel Manor Assisted Living Center in Clayton, NC; and The Crossings at Steele Creek in Charlotte, NC. The two former residents named in the complaint lived at Franklin Manor, but plaintiffs' attorneys maintain that similar conditions existed at all three communities.

“These are some of the worst conditions I have ever seen in long-term care facilities, and I've spent my career filing cases against adult care homes,” said plaintiffs' counsel Steve Gugenheim.

According to the lawsuit, investigations conducted by the North Carolina Division of Health Services Regulation found that the communities violated state requirements mandating not only a minimum staff-to-resident ratio for special care units but also sufficient staffing to meet the basic and additionally contracted service needs of residents (even when staffing meets minimum requirements). Personal care aides and medication aides routinely were diverted from their duties to perform housekeeping and food service tasks, the complaint states. DHSR interviews of Franklin Manor employees in December 2015 found that the community did not employ dietary aides, a “laundry person” or a resident care coordinator to assist with medication orders, according to the lawsuit.

“We will ask the court to permanently enjoin Saber from understaffing these facilities,” said Matt Lee, co-counsel for plaintiffs. “These are our parents, grandparents, retired firemen, nurses, teachers — people who deserve respect and are owed care that affords them the dignity they've earned.”

Attorneys said they also are investigating whether residents of other Saber facilities have received the care for which they contracted.

Saber Healthcare Group, based in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights, was formed in 2001. According to its website, the company has more than 10,002 licensed beds in 111 assisted living, skilled nursing or combination facilities in North Carolina and five other states: Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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