State orders closure of Vergennes nursing home

VERGENNES — Officials from the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) in late May revoked the license of the operator of Alden Place Residential Care Home LLC in Vergennes for a series of 23 alleged violations that DAIL Deputy Commissioner Brendan Hogan said affected “the health and safety of the residents.”
Hogan said most the alleged violations stemmed from improper and inadequate oversight and staffing; essentially, he said, there were at times either not enough employees or enough qualified employees at the home to meet what he called “the clinical care needs” of its residents.
“The administrator and several nurses did not remain at the facility,” Hogan said, which he described as serious because “these are the elderly and vulnerable who remained at the facility.”
Hogan said it was “very unusual for a facility of this size” to have so many violations, which were detailed in a 32-page “statement of deficiencies” from the department’s Division of Licensing and Protection. Those violations were found in unannounced inspections on May 12, 13 and 19.
“There were 23 different violations that led us to this point. There’s a whole host of violations that include cumulative issues in the facility,” Hogan said.
Hogan also said the state rarely issues an order to close a nursing home.
“It’s the first time this has occurred in Vermont in 15 years, so it’s very unusual,” he said.
The licensee of record is Virginia Booska of Vergennes. A phone message left at Booska’s residence was not answered before Wednesday’s deadline for publication.
On May 26, the state revoked Booska’s license to operate the 10,000-square-foot, 19-bed facility, which is owned by John LaBerge of Ferrisburgh. Booska had operated what was once the Briarwood Nursing Home since 2006. In that year, state and local mental health agencies dropped a plan to buy the then-empty building and use it as a halfway house for mental patients transitioning back into the community. That decision came after the proposal ran into community opposition.
The report stated several of the violations had been also noted in a November 2009 inspection and had not been corrected. The report also indicated that complaints had led to the inspections; Hogan cited confidentiality and declined to disclose anything about the source of the complaints.
Violations listed included inadequate staffing to provide for the medical needs of the home’s 13 elderly residents, including failure to provide needed medication in a timely manner; giving drugs and using medical restraints without doctors’ orders; having untrained personnel give drugs; interference by the licensee in the medical duties of Alden Place’s manager and registered nurse; acceptance of a resident the facility could not handle; and unauthorized use of video and audio surveillance.
According to the state report, one resident suffering from nausea crawled up stairs to the second-floor apartment looking for medical help when there was no one on duty qualified to administer drugs, and another “cont. (continued) to holler in pain and agitation” because there was no one present to administer medication.
The complaint about the restraint focused on one resident who often fell out of bed. According to the report, staff regularly put a rail on the side of the bed away from the wall, although no doctor had signed off on such a restraint, and the resident had more than once been found to have fallen out of bed over the rail.
One resident quoted in the report, who was described as “identified by the facility nurse as cognitively intact,” said the resident’s life there was not happy.
“Emotionally, I’ve been battered, and I’m afraid it will turn into physical battery,” the resident said, adding, “This is abusive. It’s abusive … I’m scared to death to stay here.”
On this past May 27 the state also obtained an order from Washington Superior Court appointing Shard Villa administrator Deb Choma as the “receiver” for Alden Place. As the receiver, Choma was charged with protecting the safety and health of the residents and coordinating the effort to find them new homes. To do the former, she stayed at the facility through this past weekend.
To do the latter task, she worked with Addison County Home Health and Hospice, Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, Disability Rights Vermont, and state officials. She praised the work of all involved.
“Every single home was interviewed and visited … Options were outlined with the families and the residents themselves,” Choma said. “This community, we pulled together, and it was just unbelievable. It made the process so much easier.”
Her stay at Alden Place was apparently more complicated. According to Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel on Tuesday, he or officers from his department responded to the building at her request about a dozen times during Choma’s stay there because of issues with Booska and LaBerge. At least one call to his department involved the unauthorized removal of medical records, Merkel said.
“We interceded between the people trying to operate the place, and the people who had owned and operated the facility,” Merkel said.
On June 3, Washington Superior Court Judge Helen Toor amended the order appointing Choma the receiver. It stated, in part, “Based on the events over the past weekend … the Court clarifies that the receiver is in complete charge of Alden Place Residential Care. John LaBerge and Virginia Booska shall not enter the facility and shall not contact the residents or their families.”
Toor also addressed the records issue: “Furthermore, Mr. LaBerge and Ms. Booska shall return immediately to Ms. Choma any information, including records, videos, audio recordings, or data, that they removed from the facility.”
Toor on June 4 amended the order to allow Booska to enter the facility and contact the staff, Choma, and residents and their families.
Choma declined comment on the events during her stay at Alden Place, and Merkel and Addison County Deputy State’s Attorney Chris Perkett declined further comment on Tuesday.
On that day, Hogan said he was happy the 13 residents had found new homes.
“That’s good news for the residents,” he said. “We did see it as a health and safety issue.”
Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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