AG looking into voluntary closure of low-rated nursing home

Van Buren County

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is gathering information about the sudden, but voluntary, closure of a South Haven nursing home.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said she couldn’t comment further on the inquiry “at this time.”

State inspection records show Graceway at Countryside had a one-star rating overall, which is described by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare as “much below average.”

Forty-one — or 13% — of Michigan’s several hundred nursing homes earn just one out of five stars overall.

According to online records, state inspectors cited Graceway for multiple failings.

Among other concerns, the state reported the home’s for-profit owners had failed to maintain proper records to safeguard residents’ trust fund money.

In a 163-page report from a December 2020 inspection, the state cited Graceway for failing to maintain sufficient staffing levels and failing to follow infection control standards.

Graceway at Countryside, a South Haven nursing home, suddenly and voluntarily closed.

Inspectors reported that the home’s infection control deficiencies led to a COVID-19 outbreak.

At one point, 43 of Graceway’s 46 residents tested positive for the virus.

Seven of them died.

Graceway was also cited for failing to establish resident care plans and failing to provide rehabilitation therapy.

The home’s for-profit owners released a statement Friday blaming the closure on “unfortunate financial circumstances related to COVID-19.”

“Our first concern in this transition is the care and well-being of our residents,” wrote Graceway at Countryside’s CEO, Anthony B. Fischer Jr.

“Graceway is working closely with the state of Michigan and Centers for Medicare Services to organize an orderly and safe discharge for all residents. At the end of the day today, all residents at Graceway will have found a new home thanks to the cooperation of other area nursing homes,” he wrote.

A former employee, who did not want to be identified, told News 8 that employee’s paychecks began bouncing shortly after the new owners took over in 2019.

“I think they just didn’t know what they were doing when they bought the nursing home. They never owned one before and they were new to the game,” the former employee said.

The former worker said some employees stayed on at Graceway, despite the home’s financial trouble, because they cared so deeply for the residents.

“It’s sad to see the place go because it was such a great place before. It really was,” said the former employee.

One of the 40 elderly residents forced to transfer to a new home Friday was a 98-year-old woman named Laverne.

News 8 was there as Laverne’s longtime friend, Sarah Doezema, visited her through a window at her new nursing home a few miles from the now-shuttered Graceway.

“I think what Graceway did was terribly wrong. By not notifying (residents and families) sooner. I mean they had to know,” said Doezema, who has power of attorney for Laverne’s care.

Doezema said the home did not contact her about the closure plan.

Instead, she learned of the impending shutdown Wednesday because Laverne’s roommate had a relative who worked at Graceway.

Doezema called the home at 120 Baseline Road Wednesday night to find out the plan for Laverne but was unable to obtain any information.  

Distressed, she contacted police who gave her the number for Adult Protective Services in Michigan — 855.444.3911.

Doezema ultimately learned from state authorities on-site Thursday that Laverne would be moved to South Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Community on Friday at 1 p.m.

She arrived early to drive Laverne to the new home, only to learn that her friend had already been transferred.

Doezema drove to the new home to check on Laverne, but she could only visit her though a window because South Haven Nursing and Rehab has COVID-19 positive residents.

Despite the sudden move, Doezema is certain Laverne will maintain a positive attitude.

“She’s an amazing woman at 98 years old,” said Doezema.

“If you met her, you would fall in love instantly. She sings constantly,” said Doezema, who went on to quote one of Laverne’s favorite sayings. “She says, ‘I’m just like my blood type, B positive.'”

In Graceway’s statement, the CEO went on to thank Pathway Health, Mission Point, Medilodge and South Haven Rehabilitation Center for their “compassion, cooperation, and professionalism.”

“We would also like to thank the State of Michigan, LARA and MDHHS for their high level of compassion and dedication to the residents and their families,” wrote Fischer. “I also would like to thank and recognize Graceway’s staff who cared so deeply for our residents. Area nursing centers have offered employment to many of our staff for which I am personally grateful. Everyone is working hard to try and keep the residents and the staff that work with them, together.”

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