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As the state considers whether to pull the license for Albany Care, a psychiatric rehabilitation clinic at 901 Maple Ave. just east of Grey Park, a former staff member repeated previous reports about the facility being understaffed and poorly managed, which he said resulted in diminished care for the approximately 300 residents who live there.
“I spent the last few months working there just constantly having to answer for the lack of resources and support that they were supposed to have,” said “Alan,” a former caseworker who asked that only a pseudonymous first name be used to avoid professional repercussions.
Alan left the facility at the end of 2021 because he considered it an unsafe and unprofessional working environment. He felt incapable of providing sufficient support to the more than 70 residents that were part of his caseload, which, he said, is almost double the typical caseload.
“We were understaffed, but then they continued to admit high-risk residents even though we didn’t have the capacity to serve them,” Alan said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health began investigating Albany Care after neighbors voiced concerns and police data indicated an uptick in crime near the building. While the department has said a decision on the facility’s license would come in mid-April, it has yet to make an announcement.
A facility under scrutiny
In December, the RoundTable published an investigation into the facility, based on an analysis of police records and interviews with case managers, city and state officials and Albany Care residents.
Three residents who spoke with the RoundTable said the facility was understaffed and, on occasion, medication was administered late or not at all. A geriatric care manager and a case manager, both with Albany Care clients, also said medication was administered inconsistently.
Residents said the facility did not provide enough activities, resources or support, and those who lived there felt neglected. They also reported heavy drug and alcohol use inside the facility.
Stacy Seals, who worked as Albany Care’s Executive Director at the time, responded to the claims, saying the facility met the needs of its residents and that staffing levels were adequate.
Resident Peter Basquin, who has lived at Albany Care for nearly three years, said the nursing situation has improved in recent months and medication is now administered on a more timely basis. But the facility still has a shortage of caseworkers, he said, and as a result, residents are left feeling helpless.
Another resident, Chris Neubauer, said the shortage of caseworkers means residents are unable to plan for their future, as they need help applying for Social Security or disability benefits. Residents want to get better and become self-sufficient, but lack the tools and connections, he said.
National care crisis
Megan Marker, interim Executive Director at Albany Care, said that nursing facilities and specialized mental health facilities across the nation face unprecedented staffing issues.
“During the pandemic, Albany Care experienced turnover rates in staff, certified nursing assistants and mental health professionals at never-before-seen rates,” Marker said in an email response to the RoundTable’s queries.
But the facility is recruiting mental health professionals, Marker said, adding that when there is a vacancy, it is often filled using temporary staffing agencies until a permanent replacement can be hired.
Both Basquin and Neubauer said the facility has undergone a first-floor “facelift.” There’s a new 90-inch TV, the lobby and dining room walls were repainted and some of the lounge furniture was replaced, Marker wrote. There is also a new game table, new flooring in the dining room and front desk updates, she added.
These improvements were planned in mid-2021 to make the interior more comfortable and inviting, Marker wrote.
Basquin and Neubauer said they wished their well-being, and that of the other residents, was a higher priority than new decor. The facility still lacks robust activities and groups, even as Albany Care continues to admit more residents, they said.
At a recent Fourth Ward meeting, Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma said Albany Care is “a nightmare” and “an example of how things can go totally wrong.”
Nieuwsma said he believes Albany Care’s owners do not have the best interest of their residents at heart. Two owners were previously convicted of Medicare fraud, he said. An Associated Press article from 2000 published in the Dispatch-Argus of Rock Island says that Bryan Barrish and Michael Giannini, who are partial owners of Albany Care, were convicted of laundering money in connection with a Medicare fraud scheme. Both men are listed in the facility’s 2020 state filing as being partial owners via various trusts.
Who is at fault?
Alan began working at Albany Care in 2020 but left after feeling helpless. His large caseload, which never dipped below 70 patients at a time, meant he could not provide residents with adequate care, he added.
Marker wrote that mental health professionals at the facility are assigned somewhere between 25 to 32 residents, as determined by Illinois law, and that the actual number of residents varies depending on the current census.
Alan also said he was told numerous times that the organization would hire more nurses and provide staff more support, but it never happened. “It was unsafe for the residents and the staff.”
Alan said he believes the problems stem from S.I.R. Management, a consultant organization hired by Albany Care. Dun and Bradstreet’s online business directory lists Barrish as president of S.I.R. Management and Giannini as secretary.
Alan said S.I.R. Management makes decisions related to who is admitted to the facility, what employees are getting paid, who is hired and how employees are treated. “I just can’t understand what their vision is as an organization,” he said.
In her response, Marker wrote that although S.I.R. Management provides some context and recommendations for Albany Care, they do not decide how the facility should be operated.
“The Albany Care executive director, as designated by the facility’s board of directors, makes all decisions regarding the operations at the home,” she wrote.
Marker, who was also quoted in a previous RoundTable article as S.I.R. Management senior vice president, explained the consultant company stands by the decisions made by facilities, which are individually owned and ultimately responsible for the care they provide.
Employees stretched thin
Towards the end of his time at Albany Care, Alan said he felt like a security guard, not a therapist or mental health professional.
Shortly before he left, about seven nurses left their jobs within a period of about two or three weeks. He said he wasn’t sure what spurred the departures, but he said the nurses who were left were asked to work longer hours and take on more patients.
It was so bad, Alan said, the remaining nurses did not have the capacity to provide medication to every resident in a timely manner.
Alan said he also felt overworked, frequently making appointments with residents that he couldn’t attend due to emergencies. Sometimes he was one of only two mental health professionals in the building available to handle emergencies, such as a mental health crisis or an act of aggression.
On other occasions, Alan was kept from his appointments when the Illinois Department of Public Health was investigating a complaint, he said.
Not showing up to appointments and feeling as though he was betraying the residents’ trust was the hardest part of his job, Alan said.
“You were left feeling powerless and left to explain what was going on, but then you’re not able to bad-mouth the organization, so you’re stuck making excuses,” he said.
Older residents feared for their safety
Some of the new residents are young and have extensive criminal records, Alan said, something he said wouldn’t be a concern if the facility were appropriately staffed and had resources. That, however, wasn’t the case when he worked at Albany Care.
Older, more vulnerable residents are easy targets for abuse, particularly at the hands of the younger, higher-risk population, Alan said. Some of the more vulnerable residents told Alan they feared for their safety, and that if anything were to happen, there would be no staff to intervene.
He recalled times no medical professionals were available to help patients during an emergency. In response to this claim, Marker wrote that there are medical professionals present 24 hours a day, and that emergency situations vary and each one requires a unique response.
The problems combined to create what Alan said was an unsafe living and working environment. “I knew that [Albany Care] was headed for disaster,” Alan said. “The organization was not going to do what they needed to do to save it.”