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Blossom South's Owner Defends Progress

Rochester, N.Y. - Just a few weeks after he became the new owner of the troubled Blossom South facility, in the summer of 2011, Israel Segal gave his business office manager a dollar. Dionne Freida, who had been in the position for nine years, didn't know what to make of it.

"It's for a soda," Segal told her.

Freida still didn't understand. After all, Segal owned the place. If he wanted to grab a can of soda from the kitchen, well, it was up to him.

"I don't take anything from this facility," Segal told her. "Not until everything is paid off. Not until there are no debts. I come last."

Two years later, Freida still remembers that moment vividly.

"That sent a message," Freida said. "He has made important changes, even though it hasn't been easy. He leads by example, and he expects us to follow."

But that hasn't stopped Segal from running into trouble with the state and federal governments. In August, Blossom South asked a judge to step in to stop the government from blocking federal funding (primarily Medicaid for Blossom South residents). A judge agreed, and now Segal will have his chance to show the court that Blossom South is making significant progress.

If he loses in court, the federal government could initiate the closure of the facility. So Segal is preparing to make his case that Blossom South has a plan to continue improving. For example, when Segal arrived, Blossom South had one Registered Nurse on staff. Today, Blossom South employs six RNs and multiple LPNs. Segal says he's been able to attract more doctors and physicians willing to come provide daily medical care on-site.

In 2011, Blossom South had 92 residents, or 57% capacity. Today that number has climbed to 120, or 75%. Segal says that change has helped Blossom South stabilize financially.

"The day I walked in -- I still remember it well -- people came up to me and said, 'Get me out of here,'" Segal said. "We don't hear that anymore. We're growing."

"I think it's a really nice facility," said Kenny Teeple, a resident since 2011. "I can't imagine a better staff."

Alana Russell, the Ombudsman Program Director for Lifespan, told 13WHAM News that weekly monitoring of Blossom South has found consistent points of concern. For example, Russell said that resident complaints have not dropped in the two years since Segal took over. "We are absolutely seeing complaints," Russell said. "There has never been a lull. It's a significant issue." Lifespan's role is not to regulate, but to advocate for patients who have concerns.

"If they're hearing complaints, they're not relaying those complaints to us," Segal replied. "My experience is that our residents are well cared for. They're happy."

Russell added, "To be fair, there are residents at Blossom South who are satisfied. But we get complaints about quality of care, respect, and dignity. I don't want to get into a battle over this facility. I just care about whether residents get appropriate care."

The state and federal inspections have happened at regular intervals at Blossom South, and in August an inspection found 20 violations. Some were minor; some were considered serious. One violation described improper distribution of medication.

Segal says his staff is trained to correct any problems quickly. Freida, the business manager, worries that Blossom South is being held to an unrealistic standard. "Of course we're going to have some issues, because we have residents that are harder to take care of," Freida said. "But I've seen things improve. The staff has responded. The building is better. Everyone cares."

"Every single nursing home facility has complaints," Russell explained. "It's fair to say that we're not going to see a facility with no complaints. We're just trying to get to a better overall standard of care."

Then there is the question of what happens to Blossom South residents if the facility is forced to close. 120 people live at Blossom South, and they suffer from a range of health issues; many are obese; some struggle with mental illness. Segal is direct about the plight his residents face.

"Our residents have the greatest challenges, and let's face it: Other nursing homes have rejected many of them," Segal said. "We know it. There are other nursing homes with beds available, but they decline to take residents who end up coming to Blossom South. What happens to them? We give them a high level of care that other facilities are not prepared to deliver."

"I would disagree with that," Russell responded. "There are many other facilities that exist. There are absolutely places for those residents to go."

But those nursing homes are not obligated to accept residents from Blossom South. "That is true," Russell said. "I'll give (Segal) that. We understand these are hard cases."

Segal feels that the government's actions are slowing the momentum of a facility finally working to shed its rough reputation. Russell appreciates his commitment, but she can't overlook the complaints her monitors encounter.

"The best case scenario is for Blossom South to remain open and to offer improved care for all residents," she said. "No one is rooting for the facility to close. But we've heard a lot of talk, and now everyone wants to see action."

 
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