Resident defends care at The Grand; demonstrators seek ‘major changes’ at Rome facility


As nursing homes continue to make headlines during the coronavirus pandemic, one woman says that the attention is unwarranted regarding patient care levels at one local facility.

Candace Russell — a resident at The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing facility at 801 North James St. since late 2019 — is on the resident counsel (a resident advocacy position) at the facility and she said allegations of improper care at the facility are, “...simply not true.”

She says that while some residents have complained about a lack of adequate care, “the problem here isn’t the aides … we all get along very well. ...Whenever there is a problem (The Grand staff) have been quick to get it under control.”

Russell said she hasn’t had any issues with cleanliness, or receiving prompt and a reasonable level of care. This statement in a reverse of recent protests, highlighted by the state’s review of the handling of the pandemic at all nursing facilities across New York.

She adds, “my family would never keep me in a place that was as bad as what they are making The Grand sound.”

In discussing staff culture at the facility, Russell said there are some staff that have worked at the facility for decades. She adds that to her, that longevity has created a family climate in the facilities units.

As the home moved through the pandemic, Russell said the loss of residents took an emotional toll on The Grand community. “We’ve had a good number of people pass on our unit. ...The truth is we’re not here because we’re healthy,” Russell said.

“When COVID first hit, it went through here like wildfire. ...Somebody would be fine and then they were just going,” she added.

She said that because of the very nature of nursing facilities — with residents who often have compromised immune systems living in close quarters, “There wasn’t really anything you could do. … We were just kind of defending in place.”

Further, Russell said that even with COVID-19, residents don’t have to wait on a waiting list to be transferred to another facility. They can call 911, get transported to a hospital emergency room and from there, can seek assistance getting transferred to another facility. 

“Police can also do a welfare check,” Russell adds.

Another view

On Saturday, participants in a planned demonstration at the facility spoke of the flipside of Russell’s statements.

To date, two planned demonstrations have been held regarding care at The Grand after resident RaeJean Wallace posted video testimonials to Facebook in early August citing concerns of a lack of adequate care at a time when COVID-19 is prevalent in nursing facilities.

Administrators at The Grand and the state Health Department confirmed last week that no deficiencies were found during an investigation conducted by the state office.

On Saturday, Christina Audi, administrator at The Grand in Rome declined to offer a comment in reaction to the demonstration, but did say, “We take every complaint very seriously … The Department of Health found no evidence to substantiate the claim.”

According to information from the state Department of Health, investigations of nursing facilities regarding COVID-19 related matters follow guidelines set out by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Criteria examined includes facility preparedness, testing and infection control.

A full breakdown of what is looked at during COVID-19 related investigations is outlined online here:

Still, families involved in recent demonstrations are hoping for more.

For Donna Hughes, whose former husband Michael Grifasi died on April 20 after contracting COVID-19 while in residence at The Grand, there is a hope that something will come from the attention.

“If we could reform all nursing homes across the United States … Where everyone can be treated like a human being. Maybe something good can come from this,” Hughes said.

“I just hope the workers know we’re not against all of them,” she said.

Earlier last week, Marissa Grifasi-Williams daughter of Donna Hughes and the late Michael Grifasi said that while there are negative staff issues at the facility - which have contributed to problems such as a lack of communication with families, less than adequate personal care for patient needs and unclean conditions such as fecal matter left in showers and soiled bedding not promptly changed - there are also kind, caring staff.

The families speaking out have indicated they want more consistency across the board.

“We had hoped for major changes,” said Ruth Wallace, RaeJean Wallace’s daughter who has organized the demonstrations.

On Saturday, Ruth Wallace said that her mother’s videos on Facebook have garnered over 100,000 views but she still has had to make multiple calls in recent weeks to ask about care duties for her mother.

Still, she said she has seen small changes and is hopeful for improvements in the future.

But, for Candace Russell, staff at the home are attentive and caring.

“Don’t pick on the people who are trying to help you,” she said. “One thing I wanted to add was that I understand that people have the right to protest and that’s fine. But I want to ask them to remember that this is our home. Not a department store or restaurant. So I would ask them in the future to please pick a less disruptive site than our front yard to do it.”



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