LAURINBURG – The residents of Willow Place Assisted Living are fed up with the way the home is run, and they want their voices heard.
They have formed an informal residents’ council to organize their grievances and make them heard by the public and the management of the home on Stonewall Road.
Some members of the council’s representatives are among the list of people who originally reported the home to the state in April. Shelia Austin, Rebecca Cody, Kathy Grant and Ronnie Whitt spoke with the Laurinburg Exchange at length about some of the issues the remaining 36 residents in the home have faced.
“We think it’s time somebody heard from the residents, from somebody who stays here,” said a frustrated Grant. “We pay a lot of money to stay here. We have a right to be heard. They told us we couldn’t talk to the press. That’s against our constitutional rights.”
Sixty-year-old Grant is a Laurinburg native who came to Willow Place following a stroke four years ago.
The occupants of the home formed the council because they say despite the fact that the home has been cited for a total of 34 infractions following state inspections in May and August nothing has changed. The home was issued a provisional license in July for failure to address the original infractions, and in August the management company, Z&V Adult Care, shut down its memory care unit saying that it could better address the issues if it did not have to deal with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Officials at Willow declined to comment when reached.
According to the group, things have only gotten worse. They say they have tried talking to those in charge of running the home only to be ignored.
“We have tried to talk to them, and every time we try to talk to somebody, they’ve got an excuse or they push it to the side and say that’s not true,” Austin said. “We know they’re lying to us you can look around us and tell.”
Austin suffers from multiple sclerosis and cancer. She came to Willow Place from Fayetteville in 2016.
Many of the complaints residents have are a continuation of problems the home has already been cited for like not being given medication on time and mismanagement of medication, running out of supplies and lack of adequate-palatable and nutritious meals, but others are recent developments like a faulty fire alarm, unqualified staff doing jobs they shouldn’t be, staff not covering shifts, a lack of adequate transportation to doctor’s visits, and residents being told they were not allowed to speak to the press.
The council’s representatives say that the home was without a fire alarm until mid-October following a lightning strike to the fire system in August.
“We haven’t had a fire alarm system for three months. We had a storm, and lightening hit the patio and knocked [the alarm] out,” Austin said. “They’ve had to have a hall monitor to walk the halls and check for fire and make sure people are OK.”
An alarm system specialist from a Fayetteville company who asked not to be named said that it is “very unreasonable” to for a company to wait three months to have a fire alarm repaired. He said that to allow the system to remain in that state was, “A danger to residents.”
“Any reputable business can be there and have it repaired in three to five days depending on if they need to order [parts],” he said.
The home was right in having someone do a fire watch, according to the representative, but the problem should not have been allowed to go on for three months.
According to Fire Chief Randy Gibson, the home’s system was heavily damaged and much of the equipment had to be ordered and a permit obtained to make the repairs. The system is now fully compliant Gibson said.
Another issue that poses a safety threat is understaffing, according to the council.
The group says the home has lost or fired so many staff members that most shifts are insufficiently staffed and employees are pressed into doing jobs for which they are unqualified.
“We have one nurse for the whole building and he’s not here for the whole day. The rest of the time we only have maybe four med techs now,” Austin said. “The med techs leave at 11 o’clock at night. There’s nobody here in charge if somebody were to code or to die.”
The residents say there was at least one shift when no one showed up to work. The person covering second shift left before 11 p.m. because he has another job and no one showed up to cover third shift.
“There was nobody to cover it; if something were to happen to a patient, it would have been bad,” Austin said. “There was literally no healthcare staff here. They abandoned us. It was after one o’clock before they got someone here.”
Another safety concern for the group is that call buttons and intercoms do not work, so there is no way to call for help if they need it.
One of the patients has gotten creative.
“I have got one of those little service bells and that’s what I use for a call button otherwise I have to scream for a nurse,” Cody said.
They also say that housekeepers have been pressed into doing the jobs of Certified Nursing Assistants. CNAs assist with personal care of patients and are required by the state to complete 75 hours of training.
“We have one aide here tonight, and she’s not certified,” Grant said. “The last time she tried to help me she dropped me, and I’m afraid to let her help me anymore.”
Another effect of inadequate staffing is that the home no longer has a transportation program to take residents to doctor’s appointments.
“We have one guy that’s over housekeeping and maintenance he’s the one that drives us to our appointments,” Cody said.
The group also say that some workers have tried to g residents transport residents in personal vehicles rather than the handicapped van despite the fact that some of the residents cannot ride in cars due to disabilities.
They are also concerned because the facility’s shared shower rooms are not designated as men’s or women’s and do not have locks. The residents understand that the bathrooms cannot be locked due to emergency reasons, but are concerned that because there is nothing to keep a man from walking in on a woman while she is showering.
According to Austin, one staff member told her to make a sign and hang it on the door if she was that concerned.
The council said that residents have been told not to speak out about their concerns, but that has not stopped them.
“We were told not to talk to the press, not to talk to the TV, and you – the press − were not supposed to be coming on our premises,” Austin said. “When [WPDE] were here before, we walked to the door they – nursing home staff – made us go back inside and would not let us out here.”
The group also said that meals and nutrition have not gotten any better despite the fact that there are now fewer residents for whom to cook. They say all of the residents have lost weight because they cannot eat the food.
“We don’t get nutritious meals. We have a lot of people that are diabetic and a lot of heart patients, but everybody gets exact the same thing. It’s not nutritious for us,” Austin said. “And we get the same thing for breakfast every day. When I get to the dining room I hate to sit down at the table because I know what it’s going to be.”
The residents say the food they are given is not edible and appetizing.
“We had frozen pizza three days in a row and had a salad with only lettuce,” Cody said. “The Italian dressing was mostly oil and when they do cook meat, it’s greasy.”
They say the home still runs out of supplies like milk, coffee, sugar and napkins on a regular basis, and some staff members have taken it upon themselves to bring items like coffee or cook meals to feed the residents.
In one case a staff member had to bring soup broth to Austin who was suffering from a stomach virus because the home did not have broth available.
Still the residents don’t want to leave Willow Place. They want the facility to be run properly because they have made a home there and have become an ad hoc family.
“This is our home. These people are my family, and you do what you can to help family,” Austin said. “We’re hopeful that something good will come out of this, and they’ll get their stuff together. If we don’t get help there’s going to be a lot more people dying or getting sick.”
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169