Following the abrupt closure in December of Northview Village, St. Louis’ largest skilled nursing facility, federal agencies issued a scathing 59-page report detailing the failures of leadership immediately before and after the facility shut its doors.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) found the facility failed to follow its emergency preparedness plan, communicate adequately and evacuate residents safely during its abrupt closure. The investigation also noted the facility’s long standing financial problems and failure of leadership to obtain crucial funds to pay workers.
HHS conducted extensive interviews with Sherry Brockmeier, Northview administrator, and Matt Furgerson, CFO of Healthcare Accounting Services, which operated Northview, among other staffers, and reported the findings this month.
One of the problems noted by HHS was that owners of Northview failed to infuse more cash into the operation despite knowledge that the facility’s staff was not receiving their pay, the report found.
Maklhouf Suissa, the largest stakeholder in the company, who co-owned Northview with Hunter Management and Care Centers, was expecting funds from his business partner, Eric Rothner, but Rothner refused to issue said funds.
Rothner is tied to more than a dozen other nursing facilities in Illinois, according to the Riverfront article. One of the country’s worst Covid outbreaks involving at least 66 deaths among two New Jersey nursing homes was connected to the Rothner family, the Chicago Tribune reported in May of 2020.
“He is not budging,” CFO Furgerson said of Rothner in an email obtained by HHS. Brockmeyer said Suissa refused to pay staff because he didn’t have the funds to do so – this was on the day the facility closed, Dec. 15.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) earlier this month called for a formal investigation into the finances, provision of care and use of Medicaid and Medicare funds of the facility. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen may conduct its own investigation into Northview’s closure as well, according to an article from the Riverfront Times. Northview’s closure displaced about 170 residents.
Furgerson told Brockmeyer to contact Rothner to get funds for payroll that day – it was payday and staff were walking off shift, according to HHS interviews.
More than 180 unpaid and laid-off Northview staff rallied earlier this month outside Healthcare Accounting Services corporate headquarters in Brentwood, Mo. Workers have still not been paid wages for time worked, as well as banked PTO and health insurance payments, the Service Employees International Union said.
Agency staff were paid while regular staff were not, according to the HHS report.
At the end of the day on Dec. 15, Furgerson advised Brockmeyer to transfer as many residents as possible to two other facilities also owned by Suissa, and Northview’s emergency preparedness plan was enacted.
Two days later, Furgerson told HHS that Northview had been losing money for years, and that Suissa was funding losses. Two other financial backers were asked to cover payroll but they did not do so. The facility was set to receive a Medicaid reimbursement check the week of Dec. 17, which Furgerson said at the time was intended to go towards payroll if the facility hadn’t shut down.
While HHS didn’t blame Suissa or his business partners for the facility’s sudden closure and chaotic aftermath, the agency did find staff failed to develop and implement emergency preparedness policies.
Northview also failed to follow procedures for the safe evacuation of residents, or coordinate an orderly and safe evacuation for residents, the report found.
Residents were moved in the middle of the night without medical records, medications, personal possessions, HHS said. Family members, guardians and next of kin were not informed in a timely manner.
Northview didn’t have an effective means of communication either, according to the report, with facility phone lines down. Facility records detailing resident relocations were incomplete, and Northview leadership didn’t take measures to ensure security of residents and staff – or the safety of resident belongings – during the evacuation.
“Based on observation, interview and record review, the facility failed to ensure resident safety during the evacuation of the facility. Two residents, who had appointed legal guardians, eloped from the facility,” HHS officials said in the report. “Staff did not respond to safety alarms as they sounded. In addition, the phone line was cut, security staff were not present, an elevator was overcrowded and stuck for 30 minutes with residents inside, medications were not distributed orderly and staff were not present [in] halls where two residents were residing.”
HHS found that Northview was fined 12 times for federal violations since March 2021, totaling more than $140,000 and ranging from $2,200 to more than $45,000. Two abuse and neglect complaints were clocked as well, along with nine quality of life complaints resulting in fines totaling $86,373, according to Medicare records.
The partnership group which ran Northview received $1.97 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program back in April 2020, Riverfront reported.