EDITORIAL: Nursing home company meets with Post-Star board | Editorial

Last month, we invited the chief executive officer of Centers Health Care to meet with the editorial board and address the conditions at the local nursing homes it owns.

Centers Health Care currently owns Warren Center in Queensbury, Washington Center in Argyle, Essex Center in Elizabethtown and The Orchard in Granville. It is also in the process of purchasing The Stanton in Queensbury and Indian River in Granville. It is currently “consulting” at those facilities.

We had previously reported that all of Centers Health Care’s local facilities had been given 1-star ratings — with 5 being the best — by the federal government. Warren Center, which was just purchased by Centers last year, had slipped from a 4-star facility to 1-star.

That’s when we extended our invitation.

Not only did Centers Health Care CEO Kenny Rozenberg agree to meet with our editorial board, but he brought along two members of their regional team, two supervisors from the Warren Center and the company’s legal counsel.

They are to be applauded for addressing our concerns face to face. Fewer and fewer companies are willing to do that these days.

We are happy to report we engaged in a productive back-and-forth for nearly two hours and found the Centers Health Care representatives passionate and compassionate about their mission.

We liked some of the things we heard, but other explanations did not pass muster.

They argued their level of care is more nuanced than the previous county-run nursing homes and said they were not surprised their rating initially went down. They said they expected it.

They explained they reassessed current residents, finding health issues previously missed while training and acquiring new staff. They also said the residents they admitted had more challenging health conditions. As hospitals discharged patients earlier in the healing process, nursing homes are taking on great post-hospitalization responsibilities.

What they said made sense and we believe they deserve the benefit of the doubt in their initial ratings at the Warren Center. Unfortunately, in other local nursing homes they own — such as Washington Center and Essex Center — they also have 1-star ratings.

Armed with a PowerPoint presentation, the Centers Health Care folks proved they know their numbers.

Some of our board found their command of numbers almost alarming for an organization that deals with not just people, but our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents.

We worried that health outcomes were being reduced to mathematical formulas.

When we asked if staffing was a problem at places like the Warren Center, Director of Nursing Jennifer Burnham, who lives in Queensbury, and Robin Chiaravalle, a social worker at the Warren Center who grew up in Lake George, both nodded vigorously.

While Rozenberg and his regional staff acknowledged that staffing at all the upstate facilities is a challenge, they argued that their company is able to shift workers from one home to another when there are emergencies so care is not compromised.

It was also encouraging to hear that Centers has begun putting in place programs that will provide scholarships and financial aid for nurses and aides who want to have a career in geriatric medicine.

Unfortunately, those programs will take time to bear fruit.

Leading up to the meeting, we heard from more than a dozen people who had concerns about nursing homes all around the region and the care their loved ones were getting. Some of them described conditions that, if true, border on neglect.

Rozenberg said Centers Health Care has tried to be responsive to all complaints.

The Post-Star was also contacted by the Warren Center’s Family Council, and their representative provided a list of concerns that we presented to Rozenberg and his staff.

We made it clear this was not “gotcha journalism,” but simply concerns that family members wanted addressed. We asked them to take that in the spirit in which it was intended.

Rozenberg said they would review the list and get back to us.

Burnham, the director of nursing at the Warren Center, said she had already talked to the Family Council about the problems and they were being addressed.

That was also good to hear.

Four years ago, this newspaper did a multi-part series on nursing homes and care for the elderly titled, “Who will take care of us?” We are well aware of the challenges facing nursing homes with an aging population that is living longer.

Most of the issues we presented then — availability of affordable and quality care for the elderly — have still not been adequately addressed, especially quality and experienced staffing.

Centers Health Care said their pay scale is in the middle by industry standards. They also said that throwing money at the staffing problem has proved not to be effective and they are often in competition with Wal-Mart and fast-food restaurants in the labor pool.

We found that statement startling.

We believed four years ago, and we still believe now, that nursing home workers are underpaid, and the good ones are worth their weight in gold. We also continue to be concerned that as our nation tries to come up with a health care system that works, care of seniors is not a bigger part of the conversation. Elected officials such as Rep. Stefanik and Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand should make this a priority.

To recruit more staff, Centers Health Care has taken the unusual step of purchasing living facilities where workers coming from out of the region can live temporarily. They said that some of the workers at the Essex Center have stayed in homes for up to six months before relocating. Centers has not bought any residences in Warren County yet.

When we asked them about the perception they were cutting corners because they were a “for profit” business, Rozenberg showed a visible reaction. If not angry, we believe he was definitely insulted.

He said that was not the case, and that Centers puts quality care first. The group also vigorously denied that out-of-region workers were taking local workers’ jobs.

Burnham offered anyone who was interested in working for the Warren Center to see her about a job, because they could use the help.

We covered a lot in our lengthy meeting and learned a lot about Centers.

We know that caring for the elderly is enormously challenging and more needs to be done. It is obvious to us — and we think to the management of Centers Health Care — that they need to do better.

Post-Star editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Robert Forcey, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representatives Dan Gealt, George Nelson and Connie Bosse.

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