The news that two executives of the former Focus Otsego nursing home pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges last week left us feeling a little flat.
Joseph Zupnik, majority owner of CCRN Operator LLC, the corporation that held the ownership certificate for Focus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Otsego, and Daniel Herman, a high-level manager, both pleaded guilty in town of Otsego court to second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor. The charge was in reference to a 94-year-old woman who was left in a recliner for nearly 41 hours in 2016.
A felony complaint, filed by the state Attorney General’s office, alleged that Focus staff did not provide the woman with required care, feeding and other services, and that she developed a pressure sore as a result.
Zupnik and Herman originally faced charges of first-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a felony, and two counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person, a misdemeanor.
Each defendant also was also charged under Public Health Law with three counts of willful violation of health laws, a misdemeanor.
Under terms of the plea agreement, both men will be required to pay a fine and perform community service. Town of Otsego Justice Gary Kuch will announce the severity of those penalties during a sentencing hearing, set for Oct. 10. State Prosecutor Kathleen Boland mentioned during Sept. 13’s plea proceeding that $1 million will be paid back to Medicaid by the corporation, CCRN.
The state’s separate eight-count felony complaint against CCRN will be taken to the Otsego County Court on Sept. 24.
The complaint laid out a pattern of behavior that promoted profit over care during CCRN’s management of the facility, which has since changed hands.
“Upon taking ownership and control of the home’s operation in October 2014, Zupnik, Herman and CCRN cut staff payroll, cut staffing, and cut other necessary services and supplies needed to provide safe and adequate care to more than 200 individual residents who were in the care of Focus through at least November 29, 2016, when Focus was designated as a Special Focus Facility by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” the complaint dated May 24 said.
The defendants received but disregarded many communications from senior staff “that residents were at risk for harm,” plus warnings from outside sources, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Four staff members were previously convicted by guilty pleas, admitting to neglect and falsification of records.
A misdemeanor conviction, coupled with a fine and a term of community service, seems like a slap on the wrist. A clawback of $1 million from the corporation is significant, but it does not promote individual accountability.
We can take some comfort from the likelihood that Zupnik and Herman are out of the health care business.
As per the stipulations of the plea, the ruling will be referred to the state Department of Health and the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services for possible exclusion from providing federally funded healthcare programs.
According to an Assurance of Discontinuance, both defendants must divest themselves from any ownership and financial interest in any health care-related business or business that is a provider of federally funded health care programs.
It’s a step toward closure in an emotional case, but it just does not feel like enough.