ST. LOUIS (AP) — A new Missouri inspection report highlights the chaos that ensued after St. Louis' largest nursing home closed without warning last month, forcing the evacuation of more than 170 residents, many in the middle of the night.
Northview Village closed suddenly on Dec. 15 as the company that owned it struggled to meet payroll. The 320-bed skilled nursing facility housed many residents on Medicaid who couldn’t get into other long-term care facilities, including people with mental health and behavioral problems, advocates for the residents have said.
The report from the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, released Wednesday, cited the financial trouble that prompted the closure. That afternoon, the nursing home administrator told an inspector that one of the owners “refused to pay staff, and said he did not have the money," the report said.
A nurse told investigators that “when employees found out they would not be paid, staff came in for work and turned around and left.”
Meanwhile, phone lines went down, making it difficult for the 174 residents to communicate with relatives. With no security present, people began stealing from inside the nursing home. An elevator was stuck for 30 minutes with nine people inside, including a wheelchair-bound resident. Tearful residents didn't know if they were staying or going.
Through the early hours of Dec. 16, residents were shuttled to about a dozen other care facilities. Many patients left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, creating confusion and spurring outrage among residents and their families. Some were relocated without their medical records or medication lists.
At least two residents walked out amid the chaos. One, 61-year-old Frederick Caruthers, who has schizophrenia, was missing for three weeks before he was found in early January. A second resident was found the day after the closure at a gas station 7 miles (11 kilometers) away, the report said.
“The facility failed to take measures to ensure security of the residents and staff during the evacuation, and failed to secure resident belongings from theft,” the report stated. “The failures jeopardized the health and safety for all residents and staff.”
The nursing home was operated by suburban St. Louis-based Healthcare Accounting Services. A woman answering the phone on Thursday said the company declined to comment.
The report didn't address the possibility of penalties for the nursing home's operator. Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat, called for a federal investigation of the owners as well as a probe of Missouri's system of overseeing nursing homes.
Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis agency that serves as an ombudsman for long-term care residents and their families, said what happened at Northview should serve as a reminder for other nursing homes to be prepared in case they ever face a similar crisis.
“How do you make sure residents are transferred in an orderly manner that is safe for them?” she asked.