Ashwood Assisted Living in Hampton has moved one step closer to losing its license to operate. Eighty one residents with various physical and psychological impairments, all dependent on state auxiliary grants, live in conditions that the state has reported as putting them "at risk for their health, safety and welfare" for more than two years.
Three months after a May 30 hearing, closed at the request of owner Scott Schuett, hearing officer Sarah Smith Freeman sent her recommendation supporting revocation to the commissioner of the Department of Social Services for a final ruling. The 10-day period allowing for objections from both sides — the DSS and Schuett — ended Friday with no input from either, according to Freeman.
"This Hearing Officer is haunted by the tragic images of the residents who were questioned or observed during the inspections — the terminally ill resident, locked in a Geri chair and left to die over his eating tray, the female resident whose fingernails were worn and dirty with her own waste and the man who did not know he deserved to wear shoes even if his feet were quite wide. … This is a sad place to live. … The facility has come to its logical end and its doors must close," Freeman wrote in her 46-page recommendation.
Commissioner Margaret Ross Schultze, who answered questions via email, but was unavailable for comment in person, has 30 days to respond. According to Joron Moore, agency spokesperson, there's a possible extension of another 30 days. However, Freeman assured, "This one is going to generate a timely response."
The Department of Social Services, which oversees assisted living facilities in the state, first issued a notice of its intent to revoke Ashwood's license in June 2012. The home's temporary license expired more than a year ago, in August 2012. During the extended appeals process, it has remained open as inspection reports by the DSS have continued to enumerate violations that range from medication mismanagement to bed bug infestations to unsafe conditions.
Until recently, Schuett, who was stripped of his administrator's license in December 2012, operated six assisted living facilities in the region. All but Ashwood and Chesapeake Home in Chesapeake have now closed.
Freeman's 46-page recommendation enumerates the conditions at Ashwood that led to her ruling. She notes almost 30 categories in which licensing inspectors recorded dozens of violations, which the agency described as "systemic, pervasive violations." The inspections revealed that the facility was not only understaffed, but also that staff "did not have the appropriate skill level to care for certain residents." There were insufficient bed linens — "residents waited, their bare flesh sticking to plastic-covered mattresses" — live cockroaches, residents lying in pooled urine, spider webs and foul odors.
In response to a question from Freeman about the pervasive odor encountered, one licensing inspector responded, "I'm a nurse. I've smelled lots and lots of smells. …The urine odor was so strong I almost gagged. … If it makes your eyes burn, and you feel like you can taste it, that's very strong." One resident did not receive her prescribed medication for a month, another terminal resident was locked in a Geri chair, a physical restraint, for hours on end, including during meal times.
Freeman determined that the inspection reports were both "credible" and "substantiated." "The facility is not a pleasant or safe place to live," she wrote.
If the commissioner's final ruling is that Ashwood should close, then residents should be notified when the provider is informed, the DSS wrote in response to emailed questions. Regarding a future appeal, it informed, "If the ruling is to close, the provider may appeal to circuit court. That would be the final appeal." In the event of its closing the provider typically has two weeks or more to find alternative housing for residents, and the DSS assured it would work with the provider to ensure that residents are placed "at the level of care required."
The public can access the final ruling, which is anticipated by month's end, only on request to the DSS, according to Moore.
To read DSS inspection reports for Assisted Living Facilities in Virginia, go to http://www.dss.virginia.gov/facility/search/alf.cgi
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