ST. LOUIS (AP) — The largest skilled nursing facility in St. Louis has closed suddenly, forcing about 170 residents to be bused to other care centers. Many left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
The abrupt shutdown of Northview Village Nursing Home on Friday came after workers learned they might not be paid and walked out, confusing residents and their relatives. Many family members gathered through the day Saturday outside the facility on the city's north side. Some didn't immediately know where their loved ones were taken.
Alvin Cooper of East St. Louis, Illinois, was preparing Monday to fill out a missing person's report on his 35-year-old son. Alvin Cooper Jr. has lived at Northview Village for several months while recovering from a gunshot wound to the head and a drug addiction.
"They don't know where he is," Alvin Cooper said. "I've burnt two tanks of gas going back and forth to that nursing home trying to find out what's going on. I don't know if he's somewhere safe or what's going to happen to him."
The difficulties started Friday when, according to the union representing workers, more than 130 people went unpaid, and it became unclear if their checks would be forthcoming.
Marvetta Harrison, 59, a certified medical technician, said workers received emails from the company this weekend promising they'll be paid, but it was unclear when.
"This is real wrong," Harrison said. "I have worked in that building for 37 years. Not only did they mistreat us, they mistreated the residents we take care of."
Northview Village has been fined 12 times for federal violations since March 2021, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Fines totaled over $140,000 and ranged from $2,200 to more than $45,000. The federal agency gives Northview a one-star rating out of a possible five, but doesn't spell out reasons for the fines.
In addition, the state health department website lists nearly two dozen Northview investigations since 2016. The most recent complaint, from February, said a resident was able to get out of the building through an unsecured door. A 2021 complaint alleged the facility failed to investigate allegations that residents left the nursing home and brought drugs into it.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the agency was notified around 4:15 p.m. Friday that the nursing home was closing. The operator implemented an evacuation plan and emergency medical service workers helped relocate residents to other nursing homes, Cox said in a statement Monday.
"The final resident left the facility before 6 a.m. Saturday," Cox said. "Our team continued working through the weekend following up with the receiving facilities to check in on the residents who had been transferred."
Shamell King, an assistant manager at another St. Louis-area nursing home, Superior Manor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that some Northview Village residents arrived without paperwork documenting their medical histories or medication needs.
Phone calls to Northview Village went unanswered Monday. Calls also were unanswered at suburban St. Louis-based Healthcare Accounting Services, the company that owns the nursing home and five others.
On Friday, employees began to question why their bi-weekly paychecks were late. They found out the payments weren't coming at all, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis agency that serves as an ombudsman for long-term care residents and their families.
The shutdown began as employees voiced their concerns, said Lenny Jones, state director for the Service Employees International Union Healthcare union, which represents about 100 of the roughly 130 displaced workers.
"They ran out of money to make payroll, caused this massive disruption, and just quickly moved forward with their goal, which was to shutter this facility," Jones said. "You would have to have been planning to move 175 residents in the dead of night."
Shuttle buses took residents to at least 15 different facilities across the St. Louis area, Moore said. Many patients departed with nothing but what they were wearing.
"Closing it down this way is the absolute worst-case scenario for a lot of us," Moore said. "It all happened so fast."
Northview Village was the largest skilled nursing facility in St. Louis, licensed for up to 320 beds. Many residents are on Medicaid and can't get into other long-term care facilities, Moore said. In addition to elderly people, the center houses many with behavioral problems, she said.
"It's a troubled facility, but it's also been a safety net to keep people from falling through the cracks," Moore said.
Cherie Ford, a certified nursing assistant at Northview Village, said she figured something was wrong on Friday when her direct-deposit paycheck wasn't in her account. Still, she and her colleagues worked a full day.
"We had no warning, the residents knew nothing either," she said in a Facebook Messenger interview.
Around 3 p.m. Friday, the staff learned they wouldn't be paid at all, she said.
"This was the only job I had and am facing eviction and no Christmas for my family," Ford said. "We were all looking forward to this check. This was our Christmas check to do our shopping, paying rent and other things."
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.