By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — Leatherstocking Healthcare’s ownership of Countryside Care Center may be coming to an end, but the recriminations haven’t.
On Friday, Ernest Orts, the president of Leatherstocking, was quoted in the Delaware County Times as saying, “Actually, the disaster was made by the incompetent nurses and by people that don’t care to do their jobs. All they care about is how much money they can milk us for.”
Sheila Alvarez, a certified nurse assistant at the center, chuckled when the quote was read to her.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” she said.
“You could only do what supplies allowed you to do,” she said, adding that in addition to a shortage of supplies, the center was chronically short-staffed.
It was only after the state started to uncover problems at Countryside that a ratio of one aide per 12 residents was set, she said.
Alvarez said that when the staff expressed an interest in unionizing in 2009 or 2010, Leatherstocking brought in two men she described as “union busters.” The men held meetings every day, she said, to tell the staff “how bad unions were.” The union initiative subsequently failed get enough votes.
The Daily Star made several attempts in recent days to contact Orts, including a voicemail, a note left on the door of Leatherstocking’s office in Herkimer, a visit to his office at Folts Homes in Herkimer and a message passed through one of his partners on Friday. He has not responded to any of these.
His partner, Ralph Reid, did not question the accuracy of the weekly newspaper’s quotation, but said Orts “overreacted” to an email sent by the reporter, Gabrielle Pierce.
“That reporter is a former employee of Countryside who was terminated,” he said, adding that the reporter is “a very, very bitter person.”
He called the email “entrapment.”
Reached by phone Friday, Pierce confirmed she had been fired after four months early this year a resident companion at Countryside.
She was fired, she said, “for asking questions and pointing out things that weren’t right.”
She said co-workers warned her about speaking up against such problems as understaffing and administrative inattention but she did not heed that advice.
Her final question, she said, was about why a resident was left lying on a floor while the staff waited for an ambulance.
Asked directly whether the nursing staff was incompetent, Reid said it wasn’t, but he nevertheless cited two incidents in which nurses or aides got the home into regulatory trouble.
“What happened is a few years ago, they had a nurse who took a person outside who was a risk of wandering away and then left that person alone outside,” he said.
Such residents must be watched all the time, he said. That breach of regulations — which, he pointed out, the home itself had reported — started the ball rolling downhill, he said.
He said Countryside was designated a “special-focus facility” after several other incidents.
He also said management thought the staff “didn’t comprehend the seriousness” of the situation, before citing another incident of a “nurse who failed to pass (morning) meds in two hours,” but who still managed to take a lunch break before completing the task.
He declined to blame such problems on supervision or management.
“The people were trained,” he said. “They knew what to do.”