On March 27, an 85-year-old female resident of the Hopkins Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare on Dean Street in Boerum Hill went missing for four hours. The resident, who has dementia, breast cancer, a coronary artery disease and has suffered from a stroke, was found by her family at her previous home in the Bronx, and was returned to the center.
In a report following the incident, the State Department of Health gave Hopkins a “substandard quality of care” rating, and called on the facility to “ensure that the resident environment remains as free of accident hazards as is possible.”
According to the Health Department report, this resident had a history of “wandering” and needed to be “monitored closely.” The center had failed to monitor the resident, the report said. By April 29, the state deemed the situation "corrected."
The incident occurred just days after the facility, formerly run by St. Vincent's Catholic Charities and known as the Bishop Mugavero Center for Geriatric Care, was transferred to Hopkins, a for-profit company.
When the center changed ownership, residents, family members and the community weren't sure what to expect.
But many said they weren't prepared for what has transpired. According to a handful of residents and family members, with the change in ownership has come deficient care, issues involving cleanliness of the facilities, poor quality of food and a less-than-hospitable environment. And even though the center's administrator says the accusations are baseless, the community is beginning to push back.
Following the incident with the missing resident, Hopkins management closed the popular outdoor front porch, and only allowed residents to enjoy the outdoors outside the rear entrance, adjacent to the parking lot. In the summer, tall iron bars were installed around the front porch, and residents were given access again.
But both the community and residents are up in arms about the bars.
On a recent morning, half a dozen residents were sitting on the porch behind the bars, some in wheelchairs, others with walkers.
“This is like a jail, it isn’t the same,” said one resident who wished to remain nameless for fear of repercussions. “I hate it.”
When the bars went up, community members complained on the Boerum Hill listserv. Some wondered how the jail-like appearance would make the residents feel, others wondered why such drastic measures were needed.
Margaret Cusack, president of the Hoyt Street Association, lives across the street from the center.
“It used to be relatives would come and visit and it [would be] a place to chat, to enjoy being in that space,” she said. “Others walking by would say hello, be friendly, dogs would befriend the residents… It was a wonderful way to connect with neighbors.”
Cusack says the friendliness is now gone. With the bars keeping the residents on one side and the neighbors on the other, she said, “it’s depressing.”
When the patio was first closed to residents, Cusack, Howard Kolins of the Boerum Hill Association and community member Ed Kopel, met with Hopkins management. Cusack said they knew the open porch was seen as a liability to Hopkins, but they wanted to assist the center in finding an “artful way” to increase safety.
“We put our heads together, sent suggestions and sketches… We were concerned it would look like a jail,” Cusack said. “We had hoped they would listen to us, but they went ahead with their own idea on how to deal with it.”
“It’s barren out there,” she added.
Jo Anne Simon, Democratic District Leader of the 52nd Assembly District and a long-time Boerum Hill resident, said it was a "shame."
"Many facilities are able to supervise wandering patients with less intrusive means," Simon said. "I am very disappointed that the Hopkins Center chose to ignore the concerns expressed by the community before the fence was installed. It looks and feels pretty overwhelming.”
In addition to the bars at the center, there have been complaints about the quality of the care patients and residents are receiving.
Joe Romano, a long-time Boerum Hill resident, checked his mother into Hopkins for rehab in after a bout of pneumonia landed her in the hospital. Romano said he would call the center and visit often to find out how his mother was doing, and would never get calls back. He called the experience “frustrating.”
“The communication was really bad. It was a struggle to figure out what kind of rehab she was even receiving," Romano said, adding, “There were too many patients there, and not enough staff it seemed."
After three weeks, Romano and his mother’s doctor decided to take her out of the center.
“We just wanted to get her out of there,” he said.
According to State Department of Health records, Hopkins has received 20 Standard Health and Life Safety Code Deficiencies citations in the past three years, compared to an average of 24 statewide.
A Carroll Gardens resident with a family member who has been living at Hopkins for a few years said when visiting the center it was always under-staffed and dirty. On one visit, there were feces in the main sitting area, the person said.
“It’s a shame,” the person, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “It’s not being taken care of as it was."
The person also said on multiple visits to the center, the family member was unhappy and fearful, and reported having missed medications at least a couple of times. The family member was unable to get an aid to help.
According to multiple people interviewed, Hopkins has cut down on its staff, and now outsources laundry, meaning residents get clean clothes less often. The food quality has reportedly also declined.
A resident of 6 years, who also requested anonymity, said the food was “bad” and that activities, including Bingo night, were also cut.
“Everything is worse,” the resident said.
Patti Sullivan, a Boerum Hill resident of 19 years, has been talking with residents about issues at the center for months.
“You’ve got real problems here. There are residents who aren’t happy,” she said. “It’s not good for anybody.”
Hopkins Center Administrator Susan Rice took issue with the complaints about the porch, saying the bars were "just a fence."
"Our responsibility is to create a safe environment for these residents," she said. "I never intended to alienate anyone from the community."
Rice said any member of the community was welcome to come in the front entrance of Hopkins, on Pacific Street, and visit with residents.
"No one has ever tried," she said.
Rice also said the porch accessibility is greater now than it was before Hopkins became the new managers of the nursing home. Previously, the porch was closed at 6 p.m., she said, and now residents can "come and go as they please."
Rice said she had not heard of any complaints about residents and patients receiving poor care. She confirmed the facility's laundry is now "subcontracted," but said the clothes come back "pressed and hung." And she challenged the claim that there are fewer nurses, asserting that there has actually been an increase in nursing staff. She also said there has been no change in food service.
"Of course there's going to be complaints on a daily basis," she said. "It's hard to please everybody."
Nevertheless, the community is organizing. A neighborhood meeting with concerned residents is being held in the coming days, and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, D-Brooklyn, has a meeting with Rice next week.