Protesters Call for Investigation of Nursing Home Chairman

As we reported yesterday, residents and employees of the Bialystoker Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation were outraged by the recent news that the 80-year old nursing home is preparing to shut its doors.  This afternoon, they gathered on the sidewalk outside the facility, demanding an investigation by the state Attorney General.

Myrta Chico Acevedo, whose mother lives in the nursing facility, located at 228 East Broadway, said the prospect of uprooting nearly 100 seniors is not only disturbing but could endanger the lives of some of the neighborhood’s most frail residents. “This center belongs to us, it belongs to the community,” she asserted.  Like many other participants at today’s protest, Acevedo suggested there’s something peculiar about the events that have transpired at  the nursing home in the past couple of years.

Specifically, the protesters said, the state should look into the sale of an adjoining building, 232 East Broadway, owned by the nursing home until last year. The three story medical office building was sold for $1.5 million to an LLC located at 127 East 59th Street. That LLC happens to share an address with Matthew Adam Properties, a firm owned by Bilaystoker Board Chairman Ira Meister.

In a letter to families, administrator Marilyn Da Silva suggested that efforts to keep the “facility operational and financially sound” had failed. But today protesters said they suspected the closure was being driven, not by financial hardship, but by a thirst for luxury redevelopment of the Bialystoker home and the adjoining office building.

A document search, however,  makes it clear the Bialystoker Center is facing significant legal and financial troubles.

Earlier this year, for example, a federal lawsuit, brought by the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, alleged that the nursing home failed to make nearly a quarter-million dollars’ worth of contributions to various benefit funds. The suit was ultimately dismissed.

Separately, the center was drawn into the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings of its tenant and debtor, the Lower Eastside Healthcare Corp., a collection of doctors who accused Bialystoker of defaulting on its lease by failing to obtain a certificate of occupancy for the space they were renting.

Also, public records on file with the city’s Department of Buildings show the nursing home has run afoul of the DOB’s Environmental Control Board at least 50 times since 1998, racking up fines for a variety of violations. They include a range of less-serious infractions such as “operating an emissions source without a permit,” which drew a $1,050 fine in 2001, and record-keeping issues involving sprinklers that prompted a $1,200 fine in 2005. More recently, however, records show the nonprofit was cited for the more serious violation of failing to have its facade inspected for safety hazards every five years. The Environmental Control Board records show that Bialystoker was cited in both September and December 2010 for failing to file a report indicating that unsafe conditions had been corrected. The nursing home was fined $8,000, which remains unpaid and shows as “defaulted.”

Separate from the regulatory issues with the DOB, Bialystoker has been named a defendant in 13 supreme court civil lawsuits since 2000, including one that’s set to go to trial in December, court records show.

During today’s protest, administrator Marilyn Da Silva stood to the side, observing the speech-making and chanting.  She said the center would have no immediate comment. A press statement will be released as soon as it is approved by the State Health Department, she said.

Tonight, Peter Constantakes, a spokesman with the Department of Health, said the law requires that every patient displaced from a shuttered facility be offered a bed in an alternative nursing home.  The health commissioner must approve every closure — and the operators are required to give 90 days notice to residents and their families.  Constantakes said the commissioner approved the Bilaystoker Center closure on July 20th.

He indicated the state monitors the financial health of nursing homes. When centers decide to close, he said, they have generally made good faith efforts to remain financially viable.  The state’s primary focus, Constantakes added, is on making sure residents have places to go when centers shut down.

if you would like to read the state’s nursing home closure guidelines in full, click on this link.