Wesley Gardens President and CEO Bob Jones said at this point, it looks like a pipe burst, busting off sprinkler heads and shooting water through the facility.
“It sent water gushing down the elevator shaft, as it spilled down the shaft it spilled out onto the floors,” Jones said.
That left the seven-floor facility with just one working service elevator.
Once Wesley Gardens was told the other elevators were so badly damaged they would need to be replaced and there was a concern about mold, Jones and the NYS Department of Health agreed to evacuate all the residents.
The emergency plan went into effect with other nursing homes from across the area agreeing to temporarily take-in residents.
“It was a massive effort to safely pack them, transport them, get them to those locations and all those peers on Christmas Eve basically admitting new residents to their facility with potentially limited staff,” Jones said of how everyone came together.
Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): “We have taken some complaints from family members who said, ‘We showed up on Christmas Eve, we didn’t know where our loved one was being sent, where they had gone.’ Could the communication have been better with families?”
Bob Jones: “Probably not. We have—our medical record—has a primary contact person. I’m guessing that the people who you heard from were not the primary contact. We communicate with that primary contact all health information, etc. The calls were being made as we were evacuating.”
Lewke: “It is my understanding this is the first time an entire nursing home has been evacuated in our area. What can you tell me about how the process worked compared to what you practice for?”
Jones: “There will be some after-action meetings with the Department of Health and emergency management… local, county and state, there were things that they found could be done better.”
Lewke: “Looking back at your inspection records, there have been a lot of issues with the building over the last several years here. Are you making the investments necessary to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again?”
Jones: “Sure, as I said… we’ll be replacing the elevators, actually in the last six-to-seven-year period we’ve put millions into the building.”
Lewke: “It looks like as recently as September you were cited by the state for sprinkler issues.”
Jones: “As I recall, that was a records issue. We changed sprinkler companies, I think I signed a new contract in October, we weren’t happy with the existing sprinkler company.”
Wesley Gardens has three times the number of standard health and life safety violations compared to the state-wide average.
During its most recent annual inspection, it was cited, not for a records issue, but for failing to properly maintain the sprinkler system.
NYSDOH inspectors found sprinkler heads were actually covered in a foreign material and wires secured to sprinkler piping in some cases, with zip-ties.
Lewke: “You’re in the middle of an ownership transfer. Are the new owners panicked about what has happened here? Are they thinking about backing out?”
Jones: “We’ve made notifications and have heard nothing. In the conversations, we’ve had with them… I don’t suspect that that’s an issue at all.”
Lewke: “I know you’re not sure on a timeline but are we talking weeks, months, six months until you open back up again?”
Jones: “At this point, we’re in a 10 to 12 week period and that’s solely based on the elevators.”
Lewke: “I know a lot of the nurses and nursing assistants are traveling to the nursing homes that took in your residents to care for them but what about the rest of the staff?”
Jones: “We’re reaching out to the other facilities to see if they want to provide provisional employments for the employees during this period.”