Disgraceful exit

A Boulder senior assisted living center draws investigations after complaints from residents, relatives and former employees

Joel Dyer

“My mother’s the oldest person there,” says Fern Bowman. Her mother is a resident at Brookdale Boulder Creek, an assisted living facility for seniors in Boulder. “She’s happy as she can be because she just turned 100 years old. She loves it. She has no clue that anything is wrong.”

Bowman is one of nearly two dozen family members, residents, former employees and senior care professionals that are pressing for major changes at the Brookdale facility. The group claims the facility is understaffed and under-trained, the result of indifferent and unqualified management personnel.

There are claims that loved ones have repeatedly been left to sit in their own waste when overworked caregivers couldn’t make it to their rooms in time. There are claims, corroborated by local health officials, that residents have been over-dosed and under-dosed on their medications, and that some prescriptions have gone unfilled for days. And Bowman says if she didn’t know the Heimlich maneuver, her mom wouldn’t have made it to 100 after she choked on a lozenge and caregivers did not respond.

It’s every family member’s worst fear when a loved one is checked into an assisted living facility that they will be mistreated. Most of the family members and caregivers who claim to have witnessed the alleged mistreatment at the Brookdale Boulder Creek facility have since moved on from the facility, are trying to or are unable to for a variety of reasons.

None of them expected this level of care when they initially signed up.

“We were impressed with the place. It looked good and didn’t stink. But we were lied to,” Bowman says.

Relatives of residents say they were given itemized care plans that were tailored to the needs of each individual resident. Some say Brookdale was liberal with promises in those care plans. That appealed to people who had tough times finding a facility that met specific needs of relatives.

“It was really hard to find a place where Donna could go and have care, and they promised they could do everything,” says Alison Castro, an independent caretaker who worked with Brookdale resident Donna Beeman before and during her stay at the facility.

“Donna would not have been able to exist there if she didn’t have extra care providers,” Castro claims. “We went into the situation with the understanding that much of our usual care of Donna would be covered by the Brookdale staff. … However, because of high turnover and that Brookdale was consistently understaffed, Donna did not receive the care she needed.”

Castro alleges many of the services promised by Brookdale were ignored, like two-person transfers, basic housekeeping and emergency response — duties she had to assume as a supplemental caretaker.

“Another big reason we moved in was that the speech therapy services would be in-house,” says JoJo Beeman, Donna’s daughter. “But it took them over a week to tell us that they didn’t have time to do my mom, so we had to rehire the old company that was doing our services.”

Donna lived in the facility for seven months after her melanoma had progressed, causing a significant increase in required care. She eventually passed away two weeks after JoJo removed her from Brookdale.

“Considering she only had eight more weeks of life [upon entering Brookdale], that was two weeks she wasn’t getting things that were supposed to help her get stronger,” JoJo says.

Willie Hammond, whose mother is a Brookdale resident, says the facility is either unequipped or unmotivated to provide the services they promise.

“They’re taking people with higher care needs than they can provide,” Hammond accuses. “And they promise this. They charge you more money, but they don’t add staff or apply money to added services.”

Hammond also alleges Brookdale charges for services they don’t provide, and that they charge for services one might not typically think require payment — like hugs.

“[Brookdale personnel] told me about psychosocial charges. ‘That’s so when we see your mom walking down the hall we go up to her and say, “Hi Yvonne. How are you doing?”’” Hammond says, pantomiming a caregiver giving a hug. “And I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Yeah, I would like them to go up and say ‘Hi.’”

Hammond claims that service costs $331 a month.

There are close to 90 residents at the Brookdale Boulder Creek facility, and relatives of residents and former employees say that caregivers are perfectly nice people, but they believe the group is understaffed and under-trained, leading to quality of care issues.

“When we began working at [Brookdale], we were happy, and looking forward to being there,” wrote two former caregivers Michelle and Mon (last names omitted upon request), in a letter to Boulder Weekly and Brookdale. “After less than a year, we became miserable. … They left us understaffed and unsupervised constantly. For a while, in the afternoon, they were leaving two caregivers for all three floors.”

The two caregivers say they were left “with no training in various areas,” and “had to train each other” on oxygen tanks, transferring residents, hygiene and more. They said they were sometimes never told when new residents came in, or the specifics of their care, like when a schizophrenic patient was admitted and no additional training was administered.

Michelle, Mon and another former caretaker told Boulder Weekly that there is a high rate of staff turnover because of too much work and not enough resources. They say they often had to choose between urgent situations and inevitably failing to promptly address certain duties. This takes a toll on residents and loved ones.

JoJo Beeman says after a few weeks, the Brookdale care staff wasn’t able to bathe her mother more than once a week. There was also the time, Beeman claims, that her mother fell and pressed her emergency call button repeatedly. Beeman says her mother waited for four hours “in her own waste, sweating and crying,” before caregivers came. Beeman says on another occasion that her mother had to wait 45 minutes before caregivers attended to her after a bout of diarrhea.

Beeman’s independent caretaker, Castro, says she saw “literally feces stuck to the floor and the toilet for weeks.”

Fern Bowman says when her mother choked on a lozenge, she had to administer the Heimlich maneuver herself even after pushing the emergency call button three times.

“Finally they show up and [the caregiver] says, ‘I came from the third floor because the caregivers from the first and second floor were serving breakfast.’”

Willie Hammond says she gave Brookdale the benefit of the doubt when issues with her mother started to routinely occur — like when, she says, caregivers didn’t take her mom’s dogs out to the bathroom enough, and so one of the animals began to defecate in her mother’s room, prompting Brookdale to force the removal of the dogs. Hammond says Brookdale also neglected to order some of her mother’s medication, and alleges the facility administered the incorrect dose of her blood pressure medication for the first three months of her stay. Even worse, “My mom wouldn’t know that she’s been overdosed on medication,” Hammond adds.

Michelle and Mon, the former caregivers, allege improper medicine dosing was a consistent problem, and a third caregiver said she was asked to dispense medicine alone without training on her first day.

“Residents have been wrongly-dosed, over-dosed, under-dosed and ignored,” Michelle and Mon wrote. “Too many times we took the blame for severe problems that we had no control over, did not cause or were left without the resources to handle situations properly.”

When her mother’s medication began to get inconsistent, Hammond asked around about the quality of care other residents were having. She connected with many of the residents and caregivers featured in this article. That process spurred several meetings with Brookdale management and several investigations by health officials.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) conducted an investigation of the medications at Brookdale Boulder Creek in May 2015. They found that “the facility failed to follow physician’s orders affecting three current residents.” The CDPHE also interviewed a Brookdale administrator and found that “she was unaware of the medication administration issues.” The department also outlined several steps to streamline the medication ordering process.

Steven Seay, the long-term care ombudsman for the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging, concluded in a report that complaints from relatives of loved ones and former caregivers “represent a pattern of problems at Brookdale Boulder Creek. Some of these problems have resulted in harm to residents.” Seay added that the Brookdale staff had communicated openly about these concerns with his agency, and had taken measures to correct them.

“What remains to be seen is whether these measures will be effective in the long run,” Seay wrote in his brief on the situation.

Despite the investigations, many relatives and former caregivers believe that Brookdale hasn’t really changed. Hammond says the agencies are unable to force the removal of Brookdale Boulder Creek Executive Director Cassidy Young, who the group of concerned parties says is responsible for the issues of under-staffing and under-training employees, “because it’s a private company.”

Brookdale declined to answer specific questions about Young and the individual concerns described in this article. They did, however, issue this statement to Boulder Weekly when given a detailed list of the complaints:

“We are aware of these concerns and have met several times with the individual who has reached out to you. Unfortunately we disagree with their allegations pertaining to the health and safety of our residents. Local as well as regional leadership are available to meet with resident [sic] and families as we have done here. This family has commented that they are in the process of filing a claim and we will handle that accordingly. Therefore at this time we do not feel it is appropriate to comment. We take the comments of residents and families seriously, as our priority is to protect the health, safety and well-being of our residents and associates.”

To be clear, Boulder Weekly notified Brookdale that the concerned parties represented well more than one family.

In a letter to Brookdale, the group of relatives and former employees said although promises have been made for improvement, “Ms. Young and her team inevitably revert to the same pattern of callous and neglectful behavior.”

Castro, the independent caretaker who has worked at other assisted living facilities in the area, says the issue could be bigger than just the Boulder Creek facility or any employee.

“Everyone kept talking about the caretakers being scared of Cassidy [Young],” she says. “But it could be that the higher management is also afraid of the policies of Brookdale. They might have a protocol they have to follow.”

Brookdale Senior Living is by far the largest assisted living care company in the U.S., operating more than 1,100 facilities with two in Boulder County and another in Arvada. Shares of the company are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Hammond and others are quick to wonder where their money goes — monthly bills range from $2,000-$10,000 — if it doesn’t go directly to the care of their loved ones.

Ultimately, the group of concerned parties feels like they’ve hit a wall with Brookdale. Many are removing their loved ones or have quit their jobs at the facility, but there is concern for the dozens of other residents who are not aware of the issues at Brookdale Boulder Creek and who do not have loved ones paying close enough attention to things like services not administered and extra bill line items.

“It’s kind of like your credit card bill; you don’t notice $20, because it doesn’t stick out to you,” JoJo Beeman says. “But [residents or loved ones] are not going to be remembering from month to month that they’re paying for some psychosocial care or something that sounds official.”

Hammond says current Brookdale residents are leery of responding critically to “investigations” Brookdale has run in its Boulder Creek facility.

“[Brookdale] says, ‘We’ve talked to a lot of residents who are happy living there.’ Well you’re walking around in your Brookdale nametag and your suits and these people are scared of retaliation. How is that an investigation?” Hammond says.

Changes that have been made in recent weeks are easy, popular fixes, the group says, like updating cabinet doors, installing hand sanitizers and pledging to make food better. But Hammond and others say it’s just not enough, and they’ve run out of patience with Brookdale.

“We are a nice group of people,” she says. “We are also a very angry group of people.”