A federal judge in New Jersey has given a legal advocacy organization unfettered access to the long-troubled Woodland nursing home as the nonprofit works to investigate alleged abuse and neglect of residents.
Disability Rights New Jersey, a nonprofit federally mandated to protect and advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, sought relief from the District Court of New Jersey on Tuesday after they say administration "threatened and intimidated" them as they sought to connect with residents. Judge Brian Martinotti, in Newark during a hearing on Friday, sided with the advocacy organization and granted them access, stating that if he didn't, the residents and the advocacy group would suffer harm.
But Peter Slocum, Woodland's attorney, said in an email after the hearing that Woodland "has granted, and continues to grant, Disability Rights New Jersey appropriate access to its residents to ensure they are receiving proper care."
The injunctive relief filing by Disability Rights New Jersey came after advocates, including the executive director, made several attempts to visit the facility in late February and earlier this month. During an initial visit, advocates observed a resident being verbally abused by a staff member, who later yelled at the group as they were leaving that their presence was "upsetting people," the complaint states.
On Feb. 20 during a second visit, advocates say Chaim "Mutty" Scheinbaum, one of two owners of Woodland, ordered they wait in his office while he spoke with staff and his attorney and threatened to call police if they left, according to the filing. He further denied them access claiming it was due to COVID, which they argued was invalid and cited guidance by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The team was eventually granted access hours later, but were followed by administration throughout their visit.
A Disability Rights investigator also claimed during a March 1 visit, Scheinbaum and another administrator "physically intimidated" her and leaned toward her "as though they were going to physically strike her," the complaint states. During another visit, advocates say a resident complained to a nurse they were given a wrong dose of medication and that same nurse blamed them for this mistake, yelling "This is all your fault! They were never like this before you came here. Everything is because of you."
The advocacy group first started visiting the nursing home after it garnered national attention when police found 17 bodies in a makeshift morgue during the height of the pandemic in spring 2020, according to the 26-page complaint. A scathing federal report released that same year showed residents' lives were at immediate risk.
The group monitored the facility twice in summer 2021 and said they were alarmed to find residents that needed specialized services for serious mental illness and developmental disability were inappropriately placed. The Mulford Road nursing home is home to just over 450 residents who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, according to Woodland's website.
As they continued investigating what they believed to be a "disproportionately high" number of residents who they said actually had traumatic brain injury and serious mental illness, the advocacy group again planned access to Woodland after state health officials issued a scathing violation report last month.
"Disability Rights NJ determined there was probable cause to suspect that all residents at Woodland have been subject to ongoing abuse, neglect and rights violations," the organization wrote in their federal filing.
Health inspectors condemned the facility and threatened to revoke its license after they found staff made no efforts to use CPR on unresponsive residents or provide life-saving medications to COVID-positive residents, according to the inspection report obtained by the New Jersey Herald. A nurse and an aide ignored a resident who complained of pain after their catheter got stuck in a motorized wheelchair and another resident with a bedsore was left in their feces for 10 hours, the report states. An aide who neglected the resident was never reported or disciplined.
Woodland, whose name changed from Andover Subacute II but is still under the same ownership, is being kept under the watchful eye of officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on which Woodland relies for reimbursements to operate. Federal regulators threatened to cut off funding on March 3 if immediate concerns were not addressed, but pulled back on possible termination until Aug. 15.
The state Health Department announced Wednesday it will send a team from Atlantic Health System to monitor Woodland for 90 days. The team will assess operations, infrastructure and business practices and report their findings weekly, according to the department.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: Andover NJ nursing home: Advocates can investigate Woodland