FOILS ON THE FOURTH: Questions loom as investigation into Ontario Center remains open

Today is the Fourth of July, a celebration of freedom – and in honor of this federal holiday, several Freedom of Information Law requests have been filed by our newsroom over the last few days with local county and state agencies as a part of our investigation into the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Canandaigua.

The first FOIL directed to Ontario County aims at confirming whether the county knew about the allegations that were brought forth by Connie Helker, a former housekeeper and front desk receptionist who contracted COVID-19 while working at the nursing home.

RELATED READ: What did local health officials know about Ontario Center problems in Canandaigua?

Helker claims that she relayed routine updates to Rosemary Strub, the communicable disease and reporting specialist at the county’s public health office when she would call her on a daily basis while in isolation due to the quarantine.

During these conversations, Helker shared that Strub documented the allegations that Helker initially told her and eventually brought forth to FingerLakes1.com.

Strub then supposedly relayed these concerns to Ontario County Public Health Director Mary Beer from as early as April 4th until the 17th – even though Beer had never made formal contact with Helker by phone or email whatsoever.

When Strub declined to comment on whether such records at the county level exist, FingerLakes1.com sought to FOIL and see what prior knowledge Ontario County public officials knew about and collected on Ontario Center while several residents passed away.

The first FOIL filed on Wednesday, July 1st requests the following from the Ontario County Public Health: 

1. Copies of all email correspondence and electronic communication (email and text) pertaining to the subject of COVID-19 and/or communicable diseases at the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare as well as other long term care facilities from the Ontario County of Public Health office, staff and employees from Wednesday, March 25, 2020 until Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

2. Copies of all email correspondence with the keywords: “Ontario Center and Ontario Centers” between the time period from Wednesday 25, 2020 until Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

3. Copies of all email correspondence from the Ontario County of Public Health to the state’s Department of Health regarding COVID-19 aid, relief and treatment for Ontario Center or Ontario Centers from Wednesday, March 25, 2020 until Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

In reference to the above items it should include but are not limited to any correspondence from, to, about, between or reference to the following: Connie Helker, Bill Corino, Rosemary Strub, Mary Beer, Rebecca “Becky” Butler and Lisa Carmer.

The second and third FOIL requests were directed to the New York State Department of Health, prompted by the state’s unannounced visit to Ontario Center on Thursday, July 2nd.

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

The two separate FOIL requests that separated by a single day aim at acquiring the state’s audit reports from two unannounced site visits at Ontario Center, the most recent early July inspection as well as the initial COVID-19 focus inspection that occurred sometime during the month of April.

The second FOIL requests the following from the Department of Health:

1. The inspection control audit report conducted for the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare from today, July 2, 2020.

The Department of Health visited Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare at 3062 County Complex Drive in Canandaigua, New York sometime this morning on July 2, 2020 for inspection control.

As for the third FOIL filed on Friday, July 3rd, this request seeks to collect the initial COIVD-19 focus inspection audit report from their April visit to Ontario Center.

This specific visit allegedly found zero deficiencies, according to Jeffrey Hammond, a public information officer at the Department of Health.

The third FOIL requests the following from the Department of Health:

1. The inspection audit report conducted for the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare from their initial COVID-19 focus inspection back in April of 2020.

The Department of Health visited the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare at 3062 County Complex Drive in Canandaigua, New York sometime during the month of April for an inspection, according to Jeffrey Hammond, a Department of Health public information officer.

The fourth and final FOIL submitted on Friday, July 3rd directed to the Office of Aging and specifically the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program seeks to learn more behind the complaints filed with their office about Ontario Center.

Region 13 Ombudsman Coordinator Dianna Leach informed FingerLakes1.com that more than 20 complaints were filed and subsequently investigated at Ontario Center through her office since October of 2019 until now.

The fourth FOIL requests the following from the Office of Aging:

1. Any and all records pertaining to the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare located at 3062 County Complex Drive in Canandaigua, New York from the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program’s Region 13 office, which is overseen by Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc. from October 2019 until today Friday, July 3, 2020.

1a. This request specifically places emphasis upon acquiring any and all documents that record complaints, observations, and investigations conducted internally by the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program from of its paid staff ombudsman volunteers during its weekly visits to that facility within the aforementioned timeframe.

1b. It also includes any conclusive reports or resolutions that were reached between the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program and Ontario Center when such conflicts were internally resolved and investigations closed.

According to Dianna Leach, the Region 13 ombudsman coordinator – she noted that more than 20 complaints were filed and investigated through their office since October of 2019 until now.

2. Additionally, this request also encompasses any and all findings and/or reports issued from those same complaints and/or investigations that were filed with their office and then sent by the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program to partner state agencies, including but not limited to the Department of Health and Attorney General’s office – since October of 2019 until today Friday, July 3, 2020.

2a. This request also seeks to obtain any and all electronic communication via email between the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program office, its staff, and/or volunteers and any state agencies pertaining to Ontario Center from that same time period.

3. Lastly, the request inquires to receive any and all electronic communication via email between the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program office, its paid staff, and/or volunteers and the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare facility, its staff, management and/or pertinent personnel from October of 2019 until today July 3, 2020.

While Ontario County has five days to acknowledge a receipt of confirmation for the request, the state is required to provide an answer within 20-days after filing each FOIL.

Even though the first answers may arrive some twenty days after being submitted, access to the records may still be hampered without an approval in-hand following this lengthy waiting period.

In fact, the process may be forced to restart the process if a request gets denied – further setting back the clock, especially when it comes to time sensitive information pertaining to the results of unannounced visits to a nursing home with a checkered track record.

Editor’s Note: In the meantime, however, stay with us here at FingerLakes1.com by checking-out our landing page for this investigative series, which is chronologically ordered to get the latest developments in this story.

Investigative Series: Ontario Center for Rehabilitation & Healthcare


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