The Veteran’s Memorial Home at Menlo Park in Edison, which was the target of federal sanctions earlier this year over major shortcomings in care, has embarked on a costly, months-long mold remediation project after a whistleblower said he raised an alarm over conditions in the building.
Officials would neither confirm the presence of mold, nor rule it out, describing the dark staining on walls that could be seen in photos of the facility only as a “discoloration.”
At least 11 rooms were found to have discolored drywall, according to officials at the 312-bed state-operated nursing home for veterans and their spouses. They said the problems were discovered not by the whistleblower, but in the course of regular inspections.
“We are concerned about mold,” acknowledged Lisa Kranis, the chief executive officer at Menlo Park, in a letter to staff, residents and families last Friday. She said an outside consultant conducted two site visits the week of May 15, leading to the decision to immediately move forward with an abatement plan.
“Abatement will involve cutting and replacing portions of the drywall in impacted rooms,” she wrote.
Another 17 rooms had leaky toilet issues, which officials blamed on failed wax rings.
The cost of the entire project was estimated at approximately $500,000, said a spokeswoman for the facility.
In a followup letter to staff and residents on Thursday, Kranis said standard practice was to conduct mold testing at the conclusion of abatement. But she noted that an air sample “pre-test” will be conducted to “help inform the level of effort required for the abatement.”
A maintenance worker and painter who claimed he was suspended after refusing to just paint over the stained drywall, however, said there was extensive mold behind many walls.
“The whole building is full of mold. They are just remediating what they find,” complained Jean Lormine, a former union leader who is appealing his suspension. “I reported it to my supervisor, but they did nothing about it.”
He said mold has to be tested, treated and remediated.
“Even if they wipe it down, the mold is still there,” he said. “You need a deep cleaning.”
Earlier this year, the facility was hit with more than $340,000 in federal penalties, following charges of improper care and abuse that put the lives of residents in “immediate jeopardy” and threatened a shutdown of the facility. Those violations led to a suspension of new admissions by the state Department of Health and a warning that the facility could be terminated from federal assistance programs.
State officials in February indicated that they had turned the corner at Menlo Park, announcing that the facility had improved its infection control strategies, made key personnel changes, and had been permitted to resume admissions.
In response to the staining and leaks, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or DMAVA, said it has developed a contractual work order for the scope of repair work of the walls and plumbing.
The agency said it just finalized two purchase orders, one to retain an outside firm for inspections and consulting and the second for the actual abatement work.
In her letter, Kranis said the wall and toilet issues were uncovered during scheduled routine maintenance as part of a deep cleaning and inspection of each occupied room at Menlo Park.
“To do this, in small groups of rooms at a time, we ask residents to relocate for 1-2 days in order to allow our facility staff the chance to move the furniture and furnishings to thoroughly inspect the residents’ rooms and bathrooms,” she wrote.
When one resident room was found to have discolored drywall on May 4, the maintenance staff and DMAVA’s Environmental Management Branch began conducting multiple maintenance checks, leading to the identification of more than two dozen rooms with issues, officials said.
“We relocated all of the residents from these 28 rooms to mitigate any health concerns and to avoid further disrupting them with the work and testing ahead,” Kranis wrote. “We are treating the issues we see as mold, however the industry standard for mold testing is the sampling of both outside air and internal air, and comparing the findings at the end of abatement.”
Sampling will be done in each room where the abatement work is ongoing upon completion. Air ducts will be inspected as well, she said.
A spokeswoman said the work is planned to continue over several months.
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