The owner of a Belleville nursing home, where an 85-year-old woman was found dead strapped to a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs, owns 12 other nursing homes in Illinois — 10, like Midwest, have a one-star rating.
Steve Blisko, who is the principal investor in Senior Healthcare Management in Skokie, near Chicago, operates Midwest Rehabilitation Respiratory, 727 N. 17th St., where Juanita Simmons died on March 12.
Besides Midwest Rehabilitation, formerly the Calvin Johnson Nursing Home, Blisko operates Marion Rehab and Nursing; Herrin Rehab and Nursing; Intergrity Healthcare of Smithton; Ridgway Rehab and Nursing; Chester Rehab and Nursing; Carbondale Rehab and Nursing Center I and II; Integrity of Wood River, and Columbia Nursing and Rehab, all of which have received the lowest rating by Medicare, which is operated by the federal government.
Other nursing homes operated by Senior Healthcare are Anna Rehab and Nursing, which has a four-star rating; Cobden Rehab and Nursing, four stars, and Alton Rehab and Nursing, two stars.
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Blisko, 34, of Chicago, could not be reached for comment. Calls placed to his corporate office were not returned.
Nursing home ratings can be found at http://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html.
In addition, Midwest and Alton Rehab have been named in five wrongful death suits in three years, according to court records in St. Clair and Madison counties.
“Nursing home ownership is a big business. That’s why they buy them,” said Jan Sherrer, a Kentucky-based advocate who writes a blog called “Senior Living Watch” on how relatives should respond when they learn their loved ones are being abused or neglected in a nursing home.
“The biggest thing is consumers need to be screaming at the top of their lungs,” she said. “This happens because of greed.”
State inspectors need to make nursing home owners responsible, answerable and liable, Sherrer said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health licenses and inspects nursing homes. The agency has the ability to pull licenses — and does, said IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
Survivors of those who die or are injured in nursing homes also can file a lawsuit. But one lawyer who specializes in suing nursing homes said lawsuits, verdicts and settlements are just the “cost of doing business” for many nursing homes.
“These homes are cash cows for their owners,” said Paul Richter, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in representing clients who sue nursing homes. “They know exactly how many beds they need to fill to make a profit.”
Richter filed one of those suits against Midwest Rehabilitation last year. Richter sued on behalf of the survivors of Lesley Ann Falkenhein, who died on Sept. 17, 2012. Falkenhein, a patient at Midwest, was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville on Aug. 21, 2012, where she was found to be severely dehydrated, suffering from kidney failure, a urinary tract infection and septic. That lawsuit is pending.
Local attorney Grey Chatham filed suit on behalf of Tim Miller’s estate. According to the suit, Miller suffered from cognition issues and needed to be prompted to eat. Miller, 56, died on May 12, 2013. A doctor found Miller suffered from neglect, dehydration and malnutrition. Miller’s family reported extreme weight loss and they asked the Midwest staff whether he was eating, Chatham said.
“We have a lot of the same issues as the Juanita Simmons’ family. They were coming in and making complaints to staff and those complaints were discounted,” Chatham said. “When you drop someone off at a nursing home, you rely on a duty to care for your loved ones. That duty isn’t being met.”
In another case, the estate of Aubrey Giles sued Midwest and Blisko after Giles was found frozen to death in a creek on Jan. 16, 2012. The suit alleged Midwest staff failed to promptly notify law enforcement to find Giles after he wandered away from the nursing home.
Midwest staff also failed to notify law enforcement after finding Simmons at the bottom of the stairs last week, authorities said. Belleville police dispatchers did receive a call from the facility that morning about 6:32 a.m. on March 12, but the caller only requested an ambulance. Family members contacted a funeral home in Montgomery County who picked up the body.
The funeral home director, who was contacted by Simmons’ daughter, called the St. Clair County Coroner’s Office to ask what type of death certificate was to be issued. Coroner’s office personnel told the funeral home director they had not been notified of the death. In the case of an accidental death, the coroner’s office must sign the death certificate. Simmons’ body was then returned to St. Clair County for an autopsy.
Last week, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said there was an “open and active investigation” into Simmons’ death. On Friday, Stone said he expected to wrap up the investigation by Monday.
Loretta Jean Ulmer and Ruth McCray, Simmons’ sisters, said they saw bruises, cuts, black eyes and stitches they believed were the result of physical abuse of their sister at Midwest Rehabilitation.
“All I want to do is sue and see that place shut down,” Ulmer said. She awaits the completion of the coroner’s investigation.
“I certainly hope they do something about this,” Ulmer said. “I want the investigation to give us some answers and some closure.”
Under Illinois law, the coroner is charged with conducting death investigations, including accidental deaths in hospitals and nursing home.
“No one wants to send a loved one to a nursing home, but sometimes it is a necessity. Hopefully, the choice will be made after careful research into the best one possible,” Stone said. “I know I certainly wouldn’t send my loved one to Midwest Rehab.”