June 24, 2020

PLANTATION KEY — Dirty laundry, a broken phone system and being understaffed are just some of the problems the state recently cited at Crystal Health and Rehabilitation Center, an Upper Keys nursing home that has become a hotbed for the COVID-19 illness.

One of the nursing home’s owners says improvements have been made since the former director departed.

The citations were a result of an unannounced visit made last month by the Agency for Health Care Administration, the chief state health policy and planning entity that oversees healthcare facilities.

The visit follows a barrage of complaints lodged by families frustrated with what they say has been a lack of communication on the part of staff since Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibited outside visitors in nursing homes on March 15 due to concerns of the coronavirus being spread to a highly susceptible population. The visit netted Crystal Health citations for the second time last month.

Ira Chafetz, who co-owns the facility, placed some of the blame for the families’ complaints on the former director.

“Things are better than they have ever been,” he said. “We made a change with the head administrator and we brought in our own testing laboratory to test everyone every two weeks. The communication has been better. I myself am in touch with staff and staff has been reaching out to families.

“We were told by AHCA officials two weeks ago that this building is a completely different facility than it was two months ago. Families have told me that as well and that’s something we are excited about.”

Families reported to AHCA that the nursing home’s business manager and other staff members began shutting the blinds in residents’ rooms when families gathered outside the facility on Mother’s Day, before being told by Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies to leave the premises as it’s private property.

During the last week of April, a speech pathologist working at Crystal Health tested positive for COVID-19 and was reportedly the first confirmed case. Mass testing at the facility followed on May 2. AHCA later reported 13 deaths took place at the facility in March and April, seven or which were called “suspicious for COVID-19” in a report issued May 19.

The results of the June 6 testing were 16 residents positive for COVID-19 and 55 negative residents, according to Chafetz.

At the time ACHA’s latest report was written, there were 11 residents isolated in the “COVID unit” on the first floor and one registered nurse and one certified nursing assistant providing care for the infected residents.

An AHCA inspector found several deficiencies during the most recent visit:

• With only one employee in the nursing home’s laundry room, the doors to the clean and soiled side of the room were propped open, two box fans were blowing over dirty clothes to circulate air, one of the washing machines had been broken for about a month and laundry had backed up.

• There was a 2½-by-10-inch gap in a tarp taped to the walls meant to seal off the COVID unit. Staff reported that they re-taped it daily and the director of nursing was going to buy a staple gun.

• One resident had not moved from his bed to his power wheelchair for a week and had not been given a bath or a shave in as long, according to the report.

• At least five employees had not been background screened within the required 10 days of employment.

• Records failed to verify medications were administered to at least three patients.

“Violations or deficiencies are cited when a facility is found out of compliance with a regulation enforced by the agency,” AHCA spokesman Patrick Manderfield said. “[T]he facility is required to put a plan of correction in place. In addition, fines can be imposed, along with other penalties if deficiencies are serious or the provider fails to correct the deficiencies. The agency conducts a revisit to ensure correction of deficiencies.”

Penalties for non-compliance range from fines and suspensions, to revocation or suspension of licenses and the issuance of emergency orders.

“AHCA just revisited and cleared us of the deficiencies found,” said Chafetz. “We continue to focus on the health and safety of our residents and communicating with the families.”

Despite Crystal Health’s improvement efforts some families have said there hasn’t been much of a change.

“For us, nothing has changed. We still can’t get through. We leave voicemails and never get called back,” said Lourdes Tolbert, who has family residing at the center.

Crystal Health & Rehab Center’s website is functional again after being offline for months.

tjava@keysnews.com