Nursing home operator disputes termination claims

Says he can refute all of state’s claims

THE FOUNDER AND CEO of the company that runs two of the three nursing homes the state is moving to shut down said the decision runs counter to the facts and is likely to have a negative impact on the broader industry.

Damian Dell’Anno, whose Next Step Healthcare owns Wareham Healthcare and Healthcare in Worcester, said state officials told him on Monday that the two facilities were receiving Medicaid termination notices because of concerns about employee testing for COVID-19 and infection controls.

Dell’Anno said the reasoning makes no sense because both facilities passed the state’s benchmarks on those and other fronts. “All of the facts that they referred to in the letter of termination we can refute,” he said. “I don’t understand what the secretary [Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services] is trying to do here.”

Dell’Anno said he will challenge the decisions, but he said the publication of the termination notice before his challenge is heard will do extensive damage to his brand. “Once this gets out, I will have utter chaos in these buildings,” he said. Next Step operates 22 other facilities in Massachusetts and a handful in New Hampshire and Maine.

He said he also feared that lenders will look askance at the industry as a whole after the state’s decision. “If they can do this to Next Step, they can do it to anyone,” he said. “The ripple effects can be contagious.”

The Worcester facility failed one of four audits dealing with infection control and other safety procedures and had perfect scores of 28 on the other three. The Wareham facility passed three of the four audits with scores of 27, 27, and 26, and failed a fourth with a score of 24.

Many other nursing homes had similar audit results and were not sent termination notices.

Eighteen nursing home facilities performed far worse – failing audits two, three, or four times. Town and Country Healthcare in Lowell, the other nursing home that received a termination notice, failed three audits and came close to failing on a fourth.

Dell’Anno said his facilities took the state audits very seriously. He said he hired a third-party firm to conduct audits prior to the state coming in to do its own audits.

Regarding staff testing for COVID-19, both of the Next Step facilities were deemed in compliance with 97 percent (Hermitage) and 93 percent (Wareham) of employees tested. Town and Country also passed, with 100 percent of employees tested.

Wareham had fewer than 10 cases of COVID-19 at its facility (Dell’Anno said it was three residents and one staff member) and no deaths, according to state records. Hermitage had more than 30 cases and 12 deaths.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The results at Wareham and Hermitage are hardly out of line in a statewide industry where a large percentage of homes had more than 30 deaths and a handful had more than 60. Of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, 65 percent have occurred in nursing homes.

The press release put out by the state on Monday also referred to a state task force report released at the end of January that included Wareham and the Hermitage among a group of facilities “with persistent quality concerns that remain ill-equipped to safely care for residents.  These issues were further exacerbated during the pandemic and these facilities are not able to provide quality care, particularly in the event of a second surge.”

Dell’Anno said the task force looked at performance in the past, when his company was still turning the facilities around. He said when Next Step bought both facilities in 2017 they were in bad shape and he has spent considerable time and money bringing them back.