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Profits over Patients: Missouri Nursing Home Running Low on Money Stops Feeding and Medicating Its Residents

A Festus, Missouri nursing home was recently closed by state health officials due to what was apparently the most egregious neglect seen by that agency: neglect of the entire nursing home and its patients and staff by its parent company.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Benchmark Healthcare nursing home, owned by Chesterfield, Missouri based Legacy Health Systems, LLC, stopped receiving deliveries of food, medication, and supplies. The nursing homes telephones were shut off because the bills went unpaid. Trash began to pile up for lack of collection. Some nursing home employees reportedly used their own funds and even food stamps to buy groceries to feed the residents. However, residents with diabetes and other nutritional requirements were not getting their special diets. Then, the staff members’ paychecks began to bounce.

After receiving complaints from residents about their hunger, and discovering that some residents were not getting necessary medications for congestive heart failure, epilepsy and schizophrenia because pharmacy bills were not being paid, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services officials closed the nursing home, after relocating approximately 60 residents to other facilities around Jefferson County. Most of the residents were individuals with mental health disorders, and were younger than 50 years old. A representative for the Missouri Coalition for Quality Care, a nursing home resident advocate group, called the situation “a disaster.”

Apparently, Legacy Health Systems, LLC, which owned the Benchmark Healthcare nursing home, was in such poor financial shape that it simply stopped paying the bills for the Festus facility. At one time, Legacy Health Systems, LLC was a $100 million enterprise, operating 27 facilities across Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, employing over 1,600 people and serving approximately 2,000 residents.

However, by 2016, Legacy had sold many assets, and had several seized by its creditors. In 2013, the company was sued for failing to pay workers compensation premiums and ended up with claims of almost $500,000. In that same year, a pharmacy alleged that Legacy owed it nearly $2 million. In 2014, Legacy discovered that its payroll contractor had failed to turn over payroll taxes to the IRS, losing the company approximately $1.8 million. In 2014, Legacy was sued for $900,000 for unpaid therapy goods and services. Also in 2014, a food service provider sued Legacy for $900,000 in unpaid bills. In 2015, Great Southern Bank alleged that Legacy had failed to repay $6.2 million in loans, seizing 4 nursing homes. At the time of the closure of the Festus facility, it was one of only 3 nursing homes still owned by Legacy.

It is not clear how things got so bad before state officials finally intervened at Benchmark Healthcare. There should have been reports of the poor situation of the residents at Benchmark made to state agents well before it reached the levels described at the time the state closed the facility.  RS.Mo §198.070 requires any nursing home facility employee or administrator, medical provider, minister, social worker or “an eligible adult” who has reasonable cause to believe that a resident of a facility has been abused or neglected to immediately report or cause a report to be made to the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Almost all states have similar reporting requirements. Upon receipt of any such report, the appropriate state department must initiate an investigation of the allegations within 24 hours.  It seems difficult to imagine that given the many services being cut off from the nursing home residents, no one affiliated or associated with the pharmacy, food, telephone, utilities or other service providers took notice of the plight of the Benchmark residents. The excuse for failure to report the Benchmark neglect cannot be fear of retaliation by nursing home officials, because under Missouri law any person who makes a report pursuant to this section or who testifies in any proceeding arising from the report is immune from civil or criminal liability for making the report and testifying, unless such reporting person acted negligently, recklessly, in bad faith or with a malicious purpose.

If you witness or are aware of any type of neglect or abuse of a nursing home resident, please report it to the proper state authorities immediately. And, contact the experienced nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz.