FESTUS, MO. - A Jefferson County nursing home was shut down after its owner failed to pay the bills. That's according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
All the disturbing allegations are listed in a set of documents, filed by government investigators.
Examples include unpaid pharmacy bills, untreated sewage, improperly administered medications, broken exhaust vents and dark mold discovered in bathrooms.
On at least one occasion, there no working phones and no access to electronic medical records.
The pest control bill was also unpaid, so residents dined with fly swatters. One resident reportedly said, “I think the flies are going to carry us off.”
Not even the food distributor was paid. Dietary Aid Damon Ridings said that made every day a challenge.
"We had to figure out what to honestly do for them for each meal, and plan each meal as the day came,” he said.
For those on pureed food diets, an investigator saw staff place “seven slices of dry toast into the blender” with no other ingredients.
Food was so scarce that staff dipped into their own paychecks to feed residents.
“It’s really sad because the staff was so caring," said one former employee who wanted to conceal her identity. "They didn’t have to do that.”
Due to the numerous violations, Benchmark Healthcare’s federal funding officially dried up this week, but residents were relocated in a hurry two weeks ago. This long-time employee says it was a heart-wrenching and chaotic situation.
“As I’m trying to get paperwork ready, they’re being hauled out the door, and I didn’t know where half my residents went," she said. "I know some of them had appointments coming up, and none of that was sent with them.”
Despite the food and fly problems, weeds and mold, this staff member said the residents were devastated to leave.
“It was heartbreaking. As residents were walking out of the building, they were crying, we were crying.”
Employees are now out of a job, and still waiting on their last paycheck. It’s especially rough for Ridings’ family.
“My dad was an NA, my mom was a head nurse, my uncle was a dietary aid, and I was a dietary aid, as well as my girlfriend," he said. "We’re dealing with our rent, electricity, water, and I just don’t know how it’s going to happen if we don’t get paid.”
Attorney Jo Anne Morrow — an advocate for the elderly — said situations like this are more common with for-profit nursing homes, and exacerbated by cost-cutting on government inspections.
“If you feel that the nursing home isn’t taking care of your relative the way they should, you should call the adult abuse neglect hotline and report it," she said. "We’re not going to improve anything if people aren’t reporting these things.”
For the former Benchmark staff member, it’s simple.
“You have to love the the elderly to get into this industry; it can’t just be about the money," she said. "Some of these people don’t have families, so they rely on the staff at the nursing home to give them the love and attention they deserve.”
NewsChannel 5 has reached out to the owner of Benchmark, John Sells, as well has his attorney. Neither have returned our calls.
If you have elder abuse to report, you can reach the Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-0210.
You can also view a list of St. Louis-area nursing homes facing violations on the Coalition for Quality Care’s website.