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I-Team investigation reveals staffing shortages at Polk County assisted living facility

Reports show staffing levels not met in two inspections
assisted living facility generic.jpg
Posted at 6:13 AM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 18:23:29-04

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — An employee-turned-whistleblower at the Savannah Court assisted living facility in Haines City says there were not enough caregivers to take care of all the residents. They say staffing shortages happened frequently and could have put residents at risk.

“What if there was a fire, I am supposed to get 29 people out of a facility?” the staff person asked.

ABC Action News confirmed the whistleblower whose name is not being used is currently on staff at Savannah Court in Haines City.

“The late shift which is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., a lot of times there would be one person there,” the staff member said.

This person told ABC Action News I-Team Investigator Jackie Callaway the ALF normally schedules two people per shift to care for and clean up after dozens of residents.

“It is just too much,” they said.

STATE REPORTS

The employee contacted the I-Team after they say they reported the issue to management on multiple occasions over the past year, but there was no improvement.

The I-Team dug through state records and found regulators cited Savannah Court in Haines City over staffing issues in April 2018.

That report states. “.....the facility failed to provide sufficient qualified staff to provide resident supervision and to provide resident services to meet their needs." According to the inspector "..... Multiple residents stated when they pull their call light at times, they have to wait an extended period sometimes staff don’t respond at all."

State regulators at the Agency for Healthcare Administration confirmed staffing corrections were made by the time they revisited the facility in November 2018.

The whistleblower contacted the I-Team in December. ABC Action News reported the concerns to state regulators who conducted a surprise inspection the next day on December 11. We checked and found the Agency for Health Care Administration issued a Class 2 citation, the second most serious, over staffing deficiencies.

Brian Lee who served as the state's senior watchdog for seven years as the ombudsman for the Department of Elder Affairs looked over the reports from 2018 and 2020.

“We found a pattern, a troubling pattern of staffing issues,” Lee said.

Janet Truitt says she is not surprised by the inspection findings. She told us she paid Savannah Court, Haines City nearly $6000 to cover the deposit and first-month stay for her 100-year-old mom, Karin in 2019.

FAMILY CONCERNS

Truitt says she visited daily and was concerned about the lack of personal care her mother received. She showed us pictures of a washcloth, bathmat and toothbrush she says were never used.

In other photos, Karin Hallen’s legs appear swollen and her compression socks are either halfway pulled up or around her ankles, “causing her feet to swell up even more,” her daughter said.

Truitt says she complained to the nursing staff but saw no improvements in her mother's care.

“The CNA's would tell me they would have too many duties,” Truitt said.

COMPANY RESPONSE

ABC Action News contacted Savannah Court and its parent company Senior Living Management by email and phone. They declined to answer our questions about past inspections.

A spokesperson told us in an email. “…. SLM would be happy to participate in a conversation relating to a positive story about the industry and the incredibly carrying [sic] people who provide services to our seniors. The senior housing industry is filled with staff members who do what they do because they care about people. SLM is a company that prides itself on caring and supporting our staff.”

In January, a state inspection noted that Savannah Court Haines City corrected the staffing deficiencies it was cited for in December. The employee we interviewed confirms additional staff has been hired in recent months.

If you or a loved one is considering a long-term care facility take the time to talk to the residents who live there, get beyond the lobby and stay for a meal, Lee advised. And check the last inspection reports posted online at the Facility/Provider Locator site: FloridaHealthFinder.gov.