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Families Look for Alternatives As Home Closes

Daughter ‘taken aback,’ says father was well-treated

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
April 19, 2023
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Denise Sharbaugh spent the weekend looking for a new home for her 88-year-old father. She’s not sure how well he will adapt to the change.

Chuck Sharbaugh, who has lived at Senior Care Plaza on Lysle Boulevard for several years, is one of the residents who will be displaced when the personal care home closes May 1. A spokesman for the state Department of Human Services said the facility is voluntarily surrendering its license to operate.

A commercial kitchen on the site will continue to operate, employees have told Tube City Almanac, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Everything’s been running smoothly, my dad has been well taken care of,” Sharbaugh of White Oak said. “It’s really clean, and I like it. I’m really taken aback.”

The facility, located in the former McKeesport Sheraton Inn, is owned by an Elizabeth Twp. family and has operated since 1992. Although licensed for 100 beds, state records show that the number of residents has been dropping. There were reportedly fewer than 20 residents last week.

In July 2021, citing 10 different violations that the state alleged had gone uncorrected, regulators began levying daily fines against Senior Care Plaza and warned the facility it was not allowed to admit new residents. DHS revoked the care home’s license and put it on a provisional license.

Violations identified by inspectors during 17 visits between March and June 2021 included allegations that Senior Care Plaza failed to maintain minimum staffing levels, failed to maintain sanitary conditions, failed to store food at proper temperatures, had improper smoking areas, improperly handled and stored residents’ medications, improperly administered residents’ prescriptions, and failed to document medical evaluations of residents in a dementia care unit.

Employees have declined to speak to the media on the record. Sharbaugh said she was told that problems began under former staff, no longer with the facility, and accelerated in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve called, I wrote letters to the state, I called Lt. Gov. Austin Davis,” she said. “Him of all people said he doesn’t handle those kinds of matters ... They said there’s nothing they can do.”

Sharbaugh said she disputes the state’s description of the closure as “voluntary.”

“They’re not voluntarily closing,” she said. “They stopped them from taking any more people in. They shut them down.”

Brandon Cwalina, press secretary for the state DHS, said the agency could not speculate on why Senior Care Plaza was surrendering its license, and was not allowed to comment on specific inspections or alleged infractions.

All of the reasons for the citations are searchable in the state’s online database, he said.

“If a facility is found to have violated health and safety regulations, then it would result in a licensing violation that would be publicly reported in the directory, along with any plans of correction provided by facilities,” Cwalina said.

A care home can be fined for repeat violations found on subsequent inspections, he said. The purpose of issuing fines is to compel facilities to comply with state laws, Cwalina said.

Cwalina said under state law, the agency has the option of either issuing a provisional license or, if there is an immediate risk to the health and safety of the residents, ordering a facility to close.

“When a licensing violation is found in a facility, the facility is required to develop a plan of correction,” Cwalina said. “A facility has the opportunity to submit a plan of correction if it is in substantial, but not complete, compliance with licensing requirements.”

Whenever a facility submits an acceptable corrective action plan, and fully complies with state regulations, a regular license is issued “immediately,” he said.

Although DHS is not pursuing collection of fines levied against Senior Care Plaza because the facility is closing, Cwalina said, the total fines levied were $9,920.

Sharbaugh said she finds it ironic that the facility is closing May 1 — during the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month — because she worries what effect the change in routine will have on the mental health of her father and other residents.

“My mother-in-law lived there, too,” Sharbaugh said. “She never had any problems. I know the state looks out for us. I understand that. But they’ve got to be able to bend a little bit. That’s what I don’t understand. Is it all about the almighty dollar? I don’t know.”

She said that she and her family have been so appreciative of the current administrator and staff that they’ve bought them lunch on occasion. “I knew they weren’t allowed to accept new residents, but I didn’t know it had come to this,” Sharbaugh said.

Originally published April 19, 2023.

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