Attorney General T.J. Donovan announcing the settlement with WoodBine Senior Living
Updated on January 7, 2020.
The former manager of an Essex eldercare home for seniors with dementia will pay up to $120,000 to settle claims that it misled prospective residents.
WoodBine Senior Living, a small, Maryland-based management company, opened Spring Village at Essex in 2016 and operated the residential care home until 2018, when it was renamed Maple Ridge Memory Care. The newly built facility was supposed to offer state-of-the-art dementia care, but problems mounted as WoodBine pushed to fill beds. Seven Days and Vermont Public Radio detailed these issues last month as part of the news organizations' "Worse for Care" investigative series on the eldercare industry.
WoodBine promised prospective residents that they would be able to live there until they died, Attorney General T.J. Donovan said at a Monday press conference.
Bruce Bottamini sold his house so his late wife could move into Spring Village, he said Monday. But Spring Village was licensed as a residential care home, a type of facility that generally cannot keep residents who need more intensive, nursing-home-level care. As a result, four residents received eviction notices, Donovan said.
The press conference was punctuated by state officials' laudatory statements about their collective effort to crack down on the out-of-state operator. But facts described in the settlement raise questions about how Spring Village was able to open in the first place.
Months before Spring Village received its state license to operate, WoodBine described it in brochures and on a website as offering "aging in place" and "end of life care," according to settlement documents outlining the violations.
Those false promises amounted to deceptive marketing, the Attorney General's Office said. The misleading marketing materials did not, however, stop the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living from granting Spring Village a license to open in October 2016 and another operating license a month later, when the facility was sold to a Florida-based real estate investment trust.
An electronic brochure dated October 4, 2016, and downloaded by Seven Days contains many of the statements referenced in the settlement. State records obtained by Seven Days and VPR indicate that a DAIL official visited the home in October 2016 as part of the state review of Spring Village's licensing application.
DAIL Commissioner Monica Hutt said she wasn't sure if DAIL was aware of Spring Village's advertised claims when it licensed the home.
"I think that if we knew they were promising things they couldn't deliver, that that would have been a conversation with them," Hutt told Seven Days and VPR after the press conference.
On Tuesday, DAIL licensing chief Pam Cota said her office had not been aware of Spring Village's advertised claims prior to granting it a license to open."That certainly would have been addressed," she said.
WoodBine will pay $62,000 to the state and $10,000 to the Vermont chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Families of the 48 seniors admitted to Spring Village at the time can also elect to receive $1,000 — provided they waive rights to any further legal claims, according to the settlement terms.
"I want to reiterate that this settlement's not enough," Donovan said to family members who attended the event.
WoodBine has not responded to numerous emails and messages from Seven Days over the past month. As part of the settlement, WoodBine agreed not to operate in Vermont again.
The settlement does not include the facility's former owner, a real estate investment trust owned by Sentio Investments. The Florida-based firm bought Spring Village for $11 million, only to sell it to a private equity firm in August 2017 as part of a much larger deal worth $825 million, Seven Days and VPR reported.
"When we looked at the wrong that had occurred, we determined that the responsible party was the manager, not the owner," assistant attorney general Jamie Renner, who chairs the office's Elder Protection Initiative, said Monday.
Also on Monday, the Attorney General's office, DAIL, and long-term care ombudsman Sean Londergan jointly published a consumer guide to long-term care facilities in Vermont. The 18-page guide contains technical information about nursing homes, assisted living residences and residential care homes, as well as links to inspection reports and state rules governing each type.
Roughly one in five inspection reports for eldercare homes was missing from DAIL's website as of November 2019, a Seven Days and VPR investigation found. The news organizations published a complete database online at eldercare.sevendaysvt.com.
Hutt said Monday that ongoing revisions to state regulations for care homes may incorporate findings from the news organizations' reports. Specifically, she said her office is examining level-of-care variances and minimum qualifications for eldercare home managers.
Read the settlement below, and access the state's consumer guide here.