Resident Defends Staff at Focus Ostego

- July 6, 2017

As featured in the Daily Star


Residents at Focus Otsego are curious and optimistic about an announced change in ownership, according to Mark Pettengill, who has lived at the town of Otsego facility for more than two years.

But officials said the matter awaits an application to the state, which would review the plan and consider approval of the proposal.

In April, the Focus Family of Companies of Airmont said it had an agreement with Centers Health Care of the Bronx whereby Centers will provide operational and management expertise pending the acquisition of Focus's two skilled nursing facilities, the one near Cooperstown and another in Utica.

Pettengill previously defended Focus Otsego, which was the subject of state investigations into alleged patient neglect during Memorial Day weekend last year that resulted in criminal proceedings against former employees and sanctions against the facility.

Pettengill, 62, said he was near death when he arrived at Focus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Otsego. The staff helped save his life then, he said, and continues to help him build his strength and recover from surgery to replace his right hip and treat a dropped foot.

“I'm doing well,” he said. “Doctors say I'm probably in the best shape I've been in for a long time,”

Pettengill reiterated his support for Focus Otsego during an interview last month at the facility and said he also has become a liaison between residents and staff, serving on committees that channel complaints about food, care or other concerns.

“I get along with staff here very well, but I'm still a patient,” Pettengill said. “I find myself in conversation with both sides.”

Focus Otsego formerly was Otsego Manor, a nursing home owned and operated by Otsego County. Faced with financial losses, the county sold the Manor to Focus for $18.5 million in October 2014. That sale prompted mixed reactions and public debate, in part about staffing levels.

In 2014, Otsego Manor had 298 employee positions and a $22.8 million budget, of which $8.9 million was for personnel, according to county officials.

In April, Focus Otsego had 173 residents in its 174-bed facility off of state Route 28 in the town of Otsego, officials said, and 225 employees.

Residents sometimes don't like change, Pettengill said, and staffing levels and practices have impact on the health of residents, who he said are curious about the sale and possible next owner.

But officials said the proposal waits state review and approval.

The state Department of Health is aware of the proposed sale, officials said, and a Certificate of Need application is expected to be submitted shortly. A change in ownership of a nursing home must be approved by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.

Centers Health Care officials said last week that the Certificate of Need application will be submitted soon.

For a while Focus Otsego was losing good employees, including some who lived in the area and helped create a family atmosphere at the facility, Pettengill said. Some employees have returned, he said, which has prompted some positive talk among the facility's staff, he said.

However, Pettengill said, residents still have questions about meal service, staffing and other issues. Residents like to see familiar faces of nurses and aides, he said, as consistent care contributes to improved health for patients.

“They sleep easier, they eat better,” he said. “They're sick less.”

Before moving to Focus Otsego, Pettengill said he lived for about five years in Sharon Springs, where he moved to be closer to Susan Rorick, one of his three daughters.

Rorick said Focus Otsego has provided care to her father that has made a “life or death” difference. He has attended art classes and other activities and enjoyed them, she said.

“It's improved his quality of life more than anything else,” she said. “On the whole, he's had nothing but positive experiences"

There were some “bumps in the road” during staff turnover, according to Rorick, and staff worked harder but didn't let patients suffer.

Pettengill was born and raised in southern New Hampshire. He served three active years in the Army and 14 years in the Army Reserve, he said, working as a radio operator and also as a drill sergeant.

“I was the loudest in the battalion,” said Pettengill, whose later employment was as a hotel engineer.

Pettengill said he had “taken a fall” and when he arrived at Focus, he weighed less than 100 pounds. Health care providers said he might live two days to a couple of weeks, he said, and he lingered for about five months in a “coma-like state.” The staff listened to him about his problems and got him “fired up” about getting better, he said.

On Thursday, the scale registered 156 pounds — more than his drill sergeant days, he said.

“I'm stronger, and I eat healthier," he noted.

On May 30, Pettengill had surgery at Bassett Medical Center to replace his right hip and treat a dropped foot. He has been able to walk using parallel bars, he said, and his doctor is so pleased with progress reports that that hip-replacement surgery for the left side is being scheduled.

Rorick and her family gave him a camera for his birthday in April. Pettengill said he likes to take photographs of sunrises and sunsets and translate them into paintings. Pettengill said creating artwork helps take his mind off some concerns, such as frustration that he has to use a wheelchair.

“I try to draw something every day,” Pettengill said. “It relaxes me big time.”

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