Two social workers allege they were fired from a suburban nursing home after refusing to fabricate medical records related to incidents of patient abuse, according to their pending lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court.
Some of their patient-abuse allegations were investigated separately by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which cited the facility for safety breaches, government records show.
Once called Burnham Healthcare but now known as Bria of River Oaks, the 309-bed home serves geriatric and bed-bound patients alongside younger adults with mental illness, substance abusers and convicted felons.
"There was no structure. It was dangerous," one of the social workers, Kenneth Allen, told the Tribune in an interview.
Avrum Weinfeld, CEO of the nursing home, declined to comment on specific incidents but called the allegations made by social workers in the lawsuit and in Tribune interviews baseless.
Weinfeld told the Tribune that administrators never attempted to mislead state inspectors. "There was no directive (to alter records), nor was there any proof of that," Weinfeld said. "Nothing has been proven and nothing will be proven."
The unadorned three-story brick building in Burnham has withstood years of state citations for violence, patient neglect and filth. Last year it received $16.5 million from Medicaid and Medicare while reporting $1.38 million in profits.
Records show that some of those federal health-care dollars went to Weinfeld's uncle, nursing home magnate Morris Esformes, whose son and close business partner, Philip Esformes, is being held without bond in a Miami federal detention cell on charges that he orchestrated a $1 billion Medicaid kickback scheme in Florida.
Morris and Philip Esformes in 2012 sold the Burnham home and three other Chicago-area facilities to companies run by Weinfeld and Weinfeld's brother-in-law, Daniel Weiss, but those homes continued to pay consulting and real estate fees to companies managed by Morris Esformes, state records show.
The Burnham facility faced allegations of violence both before and after that sale. The Chicago Tribune's 2009 "Compromised Care" investigation revealed the death of Thomas Donovan, who used a wheelchair. Donovan died in the home after a fellow resident allegedly beat Donovan, 63, with a chair. Preliminary Burnham police reports list 16 alleged assaults and batteries inside the facility since 2013, as well as two criminal sexual assault reports. None of those cases resulted in a prosecution, those records show.
The civil court allegations made by Allen and Olufunmibi Ogunyipe date to 2011 and continue into 2013, after Weinfeld took over. Paid roughly $13 per hour, the two social workers shared a second-floor office and each handled a caseload of 35 patients, according to court records and their interviews with the Tribune.
Among the accusations in their lawsuit, filed last year:
•Allen alleges that a supervisor told him to falsify the medical chart of a female resident who was hospitalized in 2012 with facial bruises and black eyes. Allen said he believes the woman was beaten by a fellow resident, but he was told to write that she had fallen. A state inspection report later found that the facility failed to properly investigate her family's complaint that she was assaulted.
•Allen alleges that after he documented a resident's rape complaint, a supervisor ripped Allen's report out of the medical file and tore it up. The state health department inspection concluded the facility had failed to thoroughly investigate the sexual assault allegation and to notify authorities.
•Ogunyipe alleges that, in the case of a 60-year-old resident who had repeatedly requested a discharge, a supervisor told him in 2013 to write up medical notes falsely stating that Ogunyipe had tried repeatedly to transfer the man but couldn't find a program with an open bed. A state health department inspection cited the facility for failing to assist the resident's request for a discharge.
About four days after that incident in summer 2013, Ogunyipe was terminated, records show. The facility alleged in its answer to the pending lawsuit that he failed to complete job duties and abandoned his post during work hours. Ogunyipe, initially hired as a security guard, started working at Burnham in 2009.
Allen worked at the facility from February to November 2012. The facility said Allen was not rehired in the transition of operational control from the Esformeses to their relatives.
In the lawsuit, Ogunyipe alleges that a supervisor tried to deceive state inspectors by removing disheveled residents who might trigger state scrutiny because they appeared neglected.
A supervisor gave him $30 to $50 to take the residents out of the building, buy them cigarettes, feed them at a McDonald's and claim they were going on a field trip, saying: "They can't be in the building," the suit states.
The facility denied the allegation in court papers.
Ogunyipe said in an interview that the administration wanted to conceal residents with untrimmed hair and soiled clothes because "you would know that they were not being cared for."
He also told the Tribune he witnessed fellow guards entice physically aggressive residents back to their rooms with a cigarette or snack, then punish them. "They would just close the door and — boom, boom, boom! Deal with the resident. Beat him up. Spit on his face and then walk out, close the door," Ogunyipe said.
In an interview, Weinfeld said: "Making up these kinds of allegations is horrible. We categorically say, no, those things did not happen."
The allegation about guards punishing residents is not mentioned in the lawsuit.
A 2012 state inspection report said two residents alleged guards beat or roughed them up in separate incidents. The report says that at least one guard at the home was fired as a result.
State inspectors have cited the facility for abuse-related incidents after Ogunyipe and Allen were terminated.
In 2014, a male resident entered a woman's room and exposed himself, saying, "I got to have that," then jumped on her bed, according to a state inspection report. She fought off the man and he was subsequently arrested, the state report said. The report said the facility could provide "no written evidence" that it immediately notified the state of the incident as required when residents are in jeopardy of harm.
That year the facility also failed to properly investigate or report altercations in which one resident suffered a black eye and another had an abrasion on his nose, state inspections say.
Amid these allegations of violence came citations for loose and peeling floor tiles, brown-stained ceiling panels and a buildup of dirt, dust and grime around air vents. "It would be nice to have a dresser that is not missing a drawer," a longtime resident told a state inspector in July 2015.
The inspector also reported that a bathroom shared by four residents "had a strong urine odor. The lights to the bathroom did not work and the tiles were cracked and in disrepair. The surrounding tile around the toilet area had a thick encrusted layer of unidentifiable stains."
In a corridor, the inspector noted an exposed, rusted ceiling pipe wrapped with an incontinence pad.
Weinfeld said these citations came amid repairs following a 2015 fire and added that his team has improved facility conditions by raising workers' wages, reducing the number of aggressive residents and investing "tremendous amounts of dollars" in upgrades and refurbishments.
"Today, you'd see a calmer place," he said. "It is a different building."
The home also switched to an electronic record-keeping system that can identify workers who try to alter or backdate records, he said.
Weinfeld worked his way up through the Esformes organization starting in 2001, serving as a registered agent and financial officer of their Chicago-area facilities before he teamed up with Weiss to purchase the four former Esformes homes.
According to state records, the Esformeses continued to manage a company that kept title to the home's underlying real estate after they sold the Burnham operation to Weinfeld's firm. That company drew $7.5 million in rent payments during the three years from 2013 through 2015, the records show.
But Weinfeld, who is a registered agent of the Esformes' real estate company, said he erroneously listed Philip Esformes as a manager of the firm in records he filed with the state.
He said the company is managed by Morris Esformes. Philip Esformes sold his interest in the company in 2012 and does not take a share of the rent, Weinfeld told the Tribune. "It was an oversight," Weinfeld said of the records.
Morris Esformes' attorney Harvey Tettlebaum said the rent payments were proper and standard for the industry.
Two of Morris Esformes' companies separately received $275,000 in consulting and administrative fees from the Burnham home in those three years, state records show. Weinfeld told the Tribune he bought one of those companies last year and stopped using the other.
The rent and back office expenses paid to the Esformes companies were necessary to patient care, Weinfeld added. "We're cognizant of the fact that it's taxpayer dollars," Weinfeld said. "It is a fair use of the money."
Weinfeld holds a 1.5 percent ownership interest in Harmony Health Center, one of the Miami-area facilities named in Philip Esformes' alleged kickback and fraud scheme, according to Florida Agency for Health Care Administration reports. Weinfeld said he is a "silent partner" who has no role in that facility's operations.
Federal prosecutors allege that Philip Esformes shuttled disabled patients through two dozen of the Esformeses' Florida facilities, billing the government for services never delivered. The Justice Department says it is the largest health-care fraud case against an individual in U.S. history. Morris Esformes, who co-owns several of the Florida homes named in the indictment, has not been charged in the case.
"Philip Esformes continues to strenuously assert his innocence," his attorney Michael Pasano told the Tribune. "He is fighting these charges and looking to clear his name and the reputation of his nursing homes, which he insists deliver high-quality care."
Full Article & Source:
Ex-employees allege nursing home tried to mislead inspectors on abuse
Nursing home operator from Chicago jailed as feds allege $1 billion scheme