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Poloncarz asks state to put Emerald South nursing home into receivership

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stood on the sidewalk in front of a Buffalo nursing home Thursday morning, urging the New York State Department of Health to intervene and take control of a center where two residents died on unnatural causes in the past two years. Poloncarz said those are just some of the many more complaints lodged against the facility.

The county executive pointed to a recently-launched investigation into alleged sexual abuse at Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, located at 1175 Delaware Avenue, involving a resident and an administrator.

Emerald South was the facility where earlier this year a resident, William Strasner, fell to his death from a third-story window. Back in 1996, resident Ruth Murray died of injuries sustained in an attack by a fellow resident. The latter case inspired the introduction and eventual passage of Ruthie's Law, which requires all nursing homes contact a family member within two hours after a loved one suffers an injury that requires hospitalization.

"I am calling on the New York State Department of Health to immediately put Emerald South into a receivership, to be managed by another entity," Poloncarz said. "An entity that has the power and has the experience to manage nursing facilities and one that is a good nursing facility entity and there are many in this region that are high-quality, good nursing facility entities."

Joining the county executive outside Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center were Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services Timothy Hogues, former longtime employee Virginia Holt and Beth Kennedy, whose close friend is currently residing inside the center.

"I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly and the real ugly and that's where we are right now," said Holt, who worked at the facility for 42 years. "There's a lot of fraud going on in this building. This company, not only do they not have health insurance, they're taking that money out of their checks and not giving it back to them."

The union representing an estimated 200 employees, 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East, filed a complaint earlier this month with the National Labor Relations Board. Their claims include understaffing, cancellation of benefits negotiated through collective bargaining, bounced paychecks and no access to telephones which they say are crucial if there is a need to call 911.

Another complaint lodged against the nursing home's operators is the alleged practice of removing laundry from the grounds and cleaning it local laundromats. Poloncarz said this poses a public health risk, because while nursing home laundry facilities are equipped to wash potentially contaminated linens, commercial laundromats are not.

"There are contagious bacteria that may and often are, because some of the patients here do have contagious illnesses... they need to be cleaned in laundromats that have high temperature, almost an autoclave type of facilities," he said. "Your public laundromat doesn't have that.

"This is unsafe and puts the public at risk!"

The county executive explained that legally, the county's health department cannot shut down a nursing home. That, he said, must come from the state level. 

"We are really pushing to make sure that DOH at the state level puts this place into receivership," added Commissioner Hogues. "And also for our loved ones, it could be your mom, it could be your dad. I tell people selfishly, at some point in life we may find ourselves in a nursing home. Do we want to face this type of stuff?"

WBFO called Emerald South seeking a statement and was advised one was being prepared, and was expected to be issued later Thursday.

Kennedy, when speaking of her friend residing inside the home, alleged there was one occasion when her peer had not yet received breakfast by mid-afternoon. She challenged management of the facility to spend just a brief time in the position of the patients.

"The owner of this building should take the challenge to live here," she said. "For not even a month, not even three weeks. Just a few days but live it as the life of a resident who can't get out of bed, who depends on the help of staff. They would maybe change their mind about how they're letting things run here."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.