Hope Etienne received a telephone call from the Washington Nursing Facility in Southeast Washington on Aug. 14, telling her that her 70-year-old mother would have to be moved from the home where she had lived for 10 months.
Jacqueline Smith received a similar telephone call the same day. Her grandmother, Emma Mitchell, another resident of the nursing home, is in a diabetic coma, but Smith was told that Mitchell would have to be moved the following day at 7:30 a.m.
The calls meant that the families had to find other nursing homes for their relatives quickly. The short notice and the way in which the patients were moved have prompted city officials and families to charge that 10 nursing home patients, most bedridden, were transferred improperly after the facility lost its license to operate the section where these patients lived.
According to Anne Hart, long-term care ombudsman for the District, the residents and their families were not given adequate time to select new homes, and residents were transferred to other facilities without monitoring by city licensing officials.
"The residents were literally put on stretchers and their belongings put in plastic bags," Hart said. "No one held their hands when they were moved. No one accompanied them. In many cases, it happened [in] less than 24 hours," she said.
The nursing facility has denied the charges.
On July 26 the city took the unusual action of revoking the home's license to care for seriously ill residents because city inspectors had found serious deficiencies over the previous 18 months, including a lack of nurses, inadequate supplies and unsanitary conditions.
The revocation meant that the 300-bed nursing home at 2425 25th St. SE had to close its skilled-care section. The home remains opens because it has a license to care for 251 patients who need less care.
Etienne, a management analyst in the city Department of Public Works, said, "I knew nothing about nursing homes, and I had to decide that day between three nursing homes -- in Clinton, Wisconsin Avenue and Grant Park [in the District] -- and to which one I wanted to send my mother. My daughter told me Grant Park Center was all right, and I took it without even seeing it," she said.
No one from the Washington Nursing Facility accompanied her mother in the ambulance to Grant Park Center on Aug. 15, Etienne said. Etienne said she followed the ambulance in her car.
According to Jacqueline Smith, the family arrived at the Washington Nursing Facility at 8:30 a.m. but her grandmother was not transferred to the Clinton nursing home until 1 p.m. "I don't know if we have put her in the right nursing home. We were all confused and we moved her out. If only we had more time, we could have looked at all the nursing homes, evaluated them before moving her," she said.
The Washington Nursing Facility's administrator, Gail Walsh, said that relatives of the residents were notified "informally" a few weeks before the transfers.
Walsh said that members of patients' families were counseled before the residents were moved.
"We did not want them to go," Walsh said. "The staff were just as devastated because they were sure they were providing proper care. They were crying . . . . It was demoralizing," Walsh said.
Hart said Pamela Wilmore, the home's director of social services, was on vacation when the closing occurred.
Wilmore's replacement "was overwhelmed by all this the transfers and had to spend a lot of time on the phone with other nursing homes [instead of counseling]," Hart said.
Walsh said the home is reapplying for a skilled-care license this month and said she is "confident" it will get it.
Lucenia Dunn, public information officer for the city Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which revoked the license, said the home was still "under review" and still "under investigation" in some instances.
In April, city inspectors found serious deficiencies at the facility, including unsanitary conditions and poor medical care. In June, the District barred the facility from accepting new patients and said it intended to cut off federal Medicare payments.
After a review, the city informed the facility on July 26 that it would continue to license the facility for intermediate care but would revoke the home's license for skilled nursing care.