PITTSBURGH — A Pittsburgh nursing home is accused of failing to notify next of kin after a resident died, and what happened next was even more dire. 90-year old Paul Tyler’s body was cremated without the family’s knowledge or consent.
“Our family is devastated. We didn’t get a chance to bury him. We didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye,” said Tyler’s granddaughter, Danielle Miller. “I’m hurt and I’m frustrated, because my granddad was loved.”
Corner View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Homewood is where Tyler lived for seven years. When Miller called the nursing home before planning to visit this past Christmas, she was stunned when they told her.
“The nursing assistant was like, ‘Oh, he passed away months ago.’ And we’re like, ‘What!?’”
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A new company, Prestige Healthcare Group, LLC, took over management of the facility in January and told Miller they had no contact information for the family.
“I was like, ‘How is that even possible, when I’m the primary contact? I’m the one that put him there!’, she told them. “I informed them, ‘You guys have brought him to my house several times, he came to my mom’s funeral, he came to my aunt’s funeral, we went to visit him when my dad passed away and he’s been to my house. How did you not have, you know, our information?’” Danielle said the employee’s response was, “I don’t know.”
Although Prestige Healthcare’s current administrator declined to comment for our story, three days after the original report aired, 11 Investigates received a written statement from Corner View’s Regional Director of Operations Steve Rech.
“The state looked in to the issue and found no wrongdoing on the part of the facility," Rech said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health would not confirm Rech’s statement. A spokesperson would only say the results of any complaint will be posted on their website 41 days after it is closed out. In writing, the Department of Health promised to send Danielle Miller a report with the conclusion of its investigation. She said she has yet to receive any notification from the state.
Here is the complete statement sent to 11 Investigates from Corner View:
11 Investigates asked the facility for documentation regarding assertions made in the statement. We still have yet to receive a response from Corner View.
Mr. Tyler died Oct. 30th and was taken to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office as an unclaimed individual. The office said it tried to locate next of kin, but only found Mr. Tyler’s estranged wife of more than 20 years. When no one claimed his body -- as per their procedure, he was sent for cremation.
“They said, ‘Well, he’s been here for so long we had to cremate him,'” Danielle remembered the Medical Examiner’s Office telling her.
Making matters worse, Danielle was told she’d have to pay some $700 to get her granddad’s ashes and death certificate, even though there would have been no charge, had the family claimed the body before cremation.
Ball Funeral Home has the county contract for cremation. Funeral Director Gary Ball says he had no idea of the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s death.
“All we get is an email to say, ‘Such and such is ready for cremation,’” he explained.
Ball says the $700 fee covers the cost of cremation and can’t be waived for one family, because then others will expect the same. Tyler’s cremains are being held at the cremation facility and will eventually be buried in a common grave with other unclaimed ashes unless someone comes forward to cover the cost of cremation.
Research on Corner View shows a history of serious violations, including dangerous sanitation issues in February of 2019 that put residents in “Immediate Jeopardy.” The facility has been tagged with the dubious distinction of being a Special Focus Facility by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The SFF designation is reserved for the most troubled facilities in the country and requires enhanced oversight. If progress is not made in correcting deficiencies, SFF homes can lose their licenses.
The map below shows which other nursing homes in Pennsylvania are on the SFF list. Click on a blue pin for more information or scroll down to see a chart with the names, locations and the number of months on the list.
Miller said she left several messages with Corner View and wanted to meet with them about what happened to her grandfather, but they wouldn’t return her calls. She filed complaints with the Pennsylvania attorney general and Department of Health.
“I’m not going to just let this go. They dropped the ball. They dropped the ball, big time,” she said.
11 Investigates went to the facility to try and get some answers. We learned the administrator in charge when Tyler died, Rodney Brooks, is no longer with Corner View or Prestige Healthcare Group. His last day was Feb. 5th, just two weeks after Miller filed her complaint with the state’s Department of Health.
We tracked down Brooks, and he agreed to talk with 11 Investigates by phone. He says he left his job because of a disagreement with the owner, but maintains the facility improved under his watch.
“When I took over the building in February of 2019, the facility was in trouble with the Department of Health,” Brooks said. He said Corner View went from 30 serious violations down to five low level deficiencies in its latest survey in December of 2019.
“We put systems in place, did a lot of training, updated policy and procedures and provided the tools necessary for staff to use,” he said.
Brooks said the facility did have a policy to notify family when a resident dies, and that it included: first trying to reach next of kin by phone; then sending a certified letter to their last known address; and finally searching on social media. When asked why that didn’t happen in Tyler’s case, he said he felt bad, but offered little explanation.
“I do not have the chart in front of me, so I can’t make a comment about it,” he said.
He did say there was an investigation and that the report was turned over to their legal department.
As for the family…
“Well, my condolences to the family,” he said.
His words rang hollow for Miller. She now hopes her complaint to the state will have impact and that Corner View will be held accountable.
“I think it’s negligence,” she said. “It’s very heartless. You don’t do that to somebody.”
Pennsylvania is fourth in the country for citizens older than 65, and many families are facing the difficult decision of finding a nursing home to care for their loved one. If you’re in this situation, be sure to research the facility’s record.
To check out a nursing home you can go to CMS’s Nursing Home Compare website to view information about a nursing home’s star ratings, staffing, quality measure and inspection results.
Another resource is the Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. They act a advocates for nursing home residents, so if you see a problem you can call them to see if they can help.
The state conducts inspections at the facilities at least once a year. Depending on the seriousness of any deficiencies found, different consequences may be given to the facility. Examples include:
- imposing a ban on admissions and/or readmissions
- issuing a provisional license
- revoking a nursing facility’s license
- taking away its right to participate in federal Medicare or state Medicaid programs
- imposing a civil money penalty
It’s also a good idea to check with the nursing home to make sure they have current contact information for the family and to periodically check the facility’s inspection reports.
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