“They should be charged and tried,” says Hornbaker in sharply-worded decision
District Judge Steven Hornbaker issued strong words against the operators of Westview Manor in Peabody when he ruled Friday that the nursing home for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities would remain in receivership.
Hornbaker wrote that Franklin Healthcare’s failure to correct “unsafe, unsanitary, and deplorable conditions” such as black mold in showers and backed-up toilets threatened the lives of its residents.
“If Franklin Healthcare were not insolvent, then they should be charged and tried for elder abuse among other charges,” Hornbaker said, “because being insolvent is the only excuse for the way their residents were treated, and it’s not a good excuse.”
He dismissed claims by Douglas Mittleider, who with his wife Julie Mittleider own Franklin Healthcare, that the company was unaware of abuses that included misappropriation of residents’ trust funds, failure to safeguard their medications, lack of decent food, filth, and staff paychecks that bounced due to insufficient funds.
“If the home company was unaware of the many problems at this facility then shame on them,” he wrote. “This is not a viable defense.”
Hornbaker originally made a Dec. 12 emergency ruling placing Westview Manor into receivership after Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services filed a petition seeking to take over the facility.
KDADS contended the 45-bed facility was insolvent and in deplorable condition, endangering residents’ health, safety, welfare, and continuity of care.
KDADS said a state inspector sent to Westview Manor found many critical issues, including:
- Sixteen of the 38 residents’ trust fund accounts had a negative balance and the Social Security Administration had discontinued Westview as a payee.
- Staff members’ payroll checks had been returned for insufficient funds. Some of Westview’s other past due bills included $1,053.67 for employment taxes, $5,669.59 for water, $1,412.59 to Weststar Energy, and $405.79 to AT&T. It was also behind on payments to its food vendor and staffing agency.
- About 119 Hydrocodone tablets belonging to a resident were missing and the cancer patient resident to whom they were prescribed was left without access to pain medicine.
- The toilet in the women’s shower had not worked for months, but some residents would use it anyway causing a foul odor. A staff member said toilets in the building needed repairs, but there was no money to buy replacement parts.
- A black substance was found in the base of the shower in the women’s shower room measuring 3 feet by 1 inch.
- Westview failed to ensure a sanitary kitchen to prepare, store and serve food to its residents. The dietary manager had to cut the food budget and was unable to buy fresh fruits and vegetables or sufficient amounts of essentials such as milk. The residents were given hot chocolate instead.
- Westview often lacked cleaning supplies or toilet paper. Staff had used their own money to buy cleaning supplies and toiletries for the residents. In addition, nursing staff lacked stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and thermometers. They brought their own equipment to work.
According to testimony, staff paid for items such as a washing machine and food storage supplies out of their own pockets.
The surveyor reported Westview Manor was “a very sad environment” during the holiday season she visited. “There were not any Christmas decorations or any other programs or events for the residents to celebrate and be happy about the holiday,” she said.
She said residents told her they were served a processed turkey roll and “watered-down potatoes so thin they didn’t even need gravy” because “they were already running all over the plate,” for their Thanksgiving dinner.
In addition, KDADS also contended Westview failed to adequately supervise and protect its residents from walking away from the facility.
One resident left Westview on Dec. 7 and was walking on the side of a road in 35- to 43-degree weather until a staff member saw him, picked him up, and returned him to Westview.
Hornbaker wrote that Douglas Mittleider’s testimony during hearings Jan. 7, 17, and 18 was “not credible” and wrote that he gave Mittleider’s testimony “little or no weight” in his ruling.
Hornbaker again cited testimony about conditions of the facility.
“Unclean and unkempt premises, toilets that did not work, black mold in showers, stink because of backed-up toilets and drains, old and unusable kitchen appliances, deficient meals, and many others,” he wrote. “The court has grave concerns for those poor and unfortunate residents — some or all of which are mentally ill.”
Mittleider’s argument that Franklin Healthcare was not insolvent and the home office was unaware of the problems did not persuade Hornbaker.
“Nothing excuses them their legal or moral responsibility from taking proper care of the poor, aged, and mentally ill residents.”
Shawn Sullivan, regional vice president of receiverships for Mission Health, said Westview employees were glad to hear Monday that the judge affirmed his earlier decision to place the facility in receivership.
“It was the right thing to do.” Sullivan said. “We will continue working with staff to stabilize the facility and improve the quality of care and services provided to residents.”
KDADS spokeswoman Cara Sloan-Ramos said the state agency will work with Westview’s landlords to find a new operator for the facility.