Inside Port Orchard Care Center...

"Port Orchard Care Center executive director Dawn Gegenfurtner says the nursing home is perhaps safer than ever before because of intense scrutiny by the media and state officials, which produced four more citations this week.I can't help but think people might visualize the (center) as a bad place after reading the papers or listening to the news, Gegenfurtner said. So I always welcome anyone to stop by anytime to see how residents are treated here and what the facility is like. Our staff are dedicated to taking care of these residents.A surprise visit to the facility by an Independent reporter March 29 momentarily flustered Gegenfurtner, who originally wanted to schedule a specific time for a tour. But after cordial handshakes and introductions were exchanged, Gegenfurtner and her director of nursing, Nanette Rice, led the reporter around the E-shaped building on Pottery Avenue. One wing, dedicated to Medicare and Medicaid patients, was dark, cold and vacant. Since the state imposed a stop-placement order last winter, the center has had trouble filling that wing, which was constructed about three years ago. Gegenfurtner said it's the newest part of the nursing home.Another, older wing, which is locked off from the rest of the nursing home, is the specialized-care unit. Residents with dementia, Alzheimer's and other cognitive impairments reside there. It smelled faintly of urine March 29. One nursing assistant led an elderly man in stocking feet along the hallway, and another woman sat alone in a wheelchair facing the wall. Others sat about the reception area and spoke with Gegenfurtner and Rice as the party passed by.You've got nice legs, dear, a wheelchair-bound woman told Gegenfurtner. Thank you, Gegenfurtner said, smiling pleasantly at the resident.The long-term care wing and activity center at the home was much more boisterous. Myriad residents sat about, waiting for their turn in a table-bowling competition. A few nursing assistants helped them.Gegenfurtner said that, typically, two nursing assistants take care of 14 residents at a time during any given shift. Currently, there are 65 residents within the center, even though there are some 125 total beds. Gegenfurtner, who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest from Florida, accepted an offer from owner Life Care Centers of America to be the director of the Port Orchard Care Center in November. Life Care Centers operates about 230 nursing homes nationwide, and Gegenfurtner had trained at one in Gig Harbor. Later last November, a state-led annual inspection uncovered cases in which inspectors said residents weren't receiving adequate or safe care. Further probes revealed alleged abuse of 21 victims by a certified nursing assistant employed at the facility. She was fired after an internal investigation in January. The allegations also precipitated a criminal investigation by Port Orchard Police.The fired employee, Honey R. Luce, was arrested last week on suspicion of fourth-degree assault, indecent liberties and unlawful imprisonment, but was charged with only two counts of fourth-degree assault. Luce pleaded innocent to the charges March 27 in Kitsap County District Court. Following up on additional complaints against the nursing home, state officials meted out four citations March 30.State Department of Social and Health Services officials cited the center three times for inappropriately discharging a male resident in December 1999. The resident allegedly sexually assaulted another resident. Upon removal, the center didn't provide written notification to the former resident's family members. In addition, he was moved to a facility that couldn't adequately meet his medical needs, DSHS officials said.The other citation stems from allegations of abuse by an employee to other residents and employees.DSHS said the nursing home hasn't informed the state of any policy changes on the training, orientation or hiring of certified nursing assistants.Gegenfurtner said those changes are in the works. She and Rice said they will follow federal and state policies to make clear which behaviors are appropriate and which are inappropriate. Learning to report incidents of abuse immediately is a part of that training, Gegenfurtner said.Police said Luce's alleged victims are two women who worked with her at the center.One of the employees told police Luce had bitten and pinched her breasts, locked her in a closet for a short period and shoved her against doors and walls over the course of 15 months until last January. The employee also told police she saw Luce grab other female residents' breasts, smack men and women residents in the forehead and flick their ears. Another employee said Luce also shoved her against doors and walls and saw Luce strike residents about the head, police reported. Police said the employee reported seeing Luce pull on a resident's sore arm and heard that resident yell in pain. According to police, these abuses occurred from the summer of 1999 through January.When asked why the employees waited so long to report the abuse, Gegenfurtner replied, We don't really know for sure.Gegenfurtner guessed one of the ex-workers was either too afraid to say anything or wasn't sure if the alleged incidents needed to be reported. Future in-service training should prevent future problems in making timely reports, Gegenfurtner said.I don't know why anyone would allegedly abuse others, Gegenfurtner said. As far as I'm concerned, there's no excuse for that kind of behavior."

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