State Department of Health makes unannounced visit to Ontario Center, says investigation into facility underway

When Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare employees walked through the doors of the facility on Thursday, the New York State Department of Health did, too.

The state’s Department of Health arrived at the center to conduct an unannounced infection control inspection as a part of NYS Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker’s mission to check on nursing homes and hospitals statewide amid the COVID-19.

Scrambling to gather answers, Jeffrey Hamond, a public information officer at the DOH shared that an investigation into Ontario Center is currently underway, and unable to comment on the specifics behind yesterday’s visit which caught off-guard the facility and county.

“The New York State Department of Health has launched a second unannounced COVID-19 focus inspection this week at Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare.  As this is an ongoing investigation, the Department cannot comment further,” Jeffrey Hammond told FingerLakes1.com.

Although the unannounced visit became a surprise for some employees inside and the specifics surrounding the start time of the investigation still remain unknown, Hammond mentioned that the Department of Health has already visited Ontario Center back in April during their initial COVID-19 focus inspection, finding no deficiencies at that time.

Typically, whenever inspections yield deficiencies, the nursing home in question would be required to submit a written plan of correction or POC to the Department of Health.

The POC outlines how the facility shall correct the errors and specific violations that occurred, according to Hammond.

Additionally, the responsibility behind identifying how the deficient practice shall be remediated or resolved falls solely upon the provider, and not the state.

Based upon a comprehensive review of the POC, the DOH determines whether the proposal shall be accepted or rejected – and confirm off-site whether such action plans have been implemented through a post-survey process.

In the event that the facility would not be compliant, the DOH would then demand for a new POC to be submitted following the issuance of a new statement of deficiencies.

However, it’s unconfirmed whether or not any deficiencies were found during yesterday’s infection control inspection – and if there are any current health risks at the facility following FingerLakes1.com’s request for a comment from the Department of Health on the status of the unannounced visit.

Aside from the sudden unannounced visit from the Department of Health, other state agencies have been keeping tabs on Ontario Center for quite some time, including the New York State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.

Dianna Leach, the ombudsman coordinator for Region 13, has her own hands busy with the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which aims at educating and advocating for the rights of long-term care and nursing home residents since its inception in 2015. 

The state agency is splintered into 15 regions, and locally overseen by certified program coordinators like Leach.

Leach oversees certified ombudsman volunteers that visit facilities within Region 13 on a weekly basis, and Ontario Center is not an exception to the rule.

“Before Covid-19, a NY State certified Ombudsman volunteer visited the nursing home for several hours each week,” she shared. 

In the case of Ontario Center which falls under the jurisdiction of Leach in Region 13, her office operates out of Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc. where she also manages the neighboring counties of Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, and Yates.

While April’s DOH visit resulted in no deficiencies found, Leach informed FingerLakes1.com that her office has received and even investigated more than 20 complaints at Ontario Center since only this October.   

“Since October 2019, we received and investigated more than 20 complaints regarding the nursing home. Our volunteer Ombudsman worked with residents, staff, and or family members–depending on the complaint–to facilitate resolution. In doing so, we must be creative, persuasive, out-of-the-box solution finders,” she elaborated.

Even though the Ombudsman Program have tracked numerous complaints, Leach explained that their agency is not a regulator like the Department of Health or an enforcement entity in the Attorney General’s office.

As a result, ombudsmen in the field are not in a position to enact any authority in the form of penalties or fines upon long-term care facilities like Ontario Center.

“However, we regularly refer residents and family members to file complaints directly with those authorities,” Leach added.

At the same time, she also mentioned that her office “share as much information as possible about what we observe in the facilities with those authorities without violating confidentiality.”

Leach understands the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s impacting the nursing home industry at large and limiting physical oversight at such facilities when families and friends are unable to see their loved ones.

“Although the ban on facility visits has made access to residents challenging, the Ombudsman Program remains available and ready to serve the needs of those who need our help,” she ended.

With the latest development regarding the Ontario Center, it is clear that the track record history behind the facility continues becoming more checkered with the Ombudsman Program citing more than 20 complaints and investigations since this last October.

These reports are now counted on top of the 14 health deficiency violations that were cited during this year’s annual inspection of Ontario Center by the Department of Health at the beginning of this year in late January.

With lacking transparency and accountability still mounting, the sentiments of Senator Pam Helming [R-54] that she recently aired exclusively with FingerLakes1.com still resonate while advocating on this policy front after co-sponsoring a bill aimed at establishing a bipartisan and independent commission to investigate the deaths of COVID-19 residents at nursing home facilities across New York State.

RELATED: DAILY DEBRIEF: Investigation into Ontario Center prompts state bill to address nursing home, COVID issues (podcast)

Those interested in reaching-out to the Ombudsman Program about Ontario Center may contact 585-287-6414 or 855-582-6769.

Check out the entire series into Ontario Center by clicking here.


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