Worse For Care

“Worse for Care” is a joint investigation by Vermont Public Radio and Seven Days into assisted living and residential care homes for the elderly. In addition to publishing stories over four weeks, we’ve launched the Vermont Elder Care Navigator, a searchable database at eldercare.sevendaysvt.com.

It was produced by: at VPR, Emily Corwin, reporter, and Mark Davis, editor; and at Seven Days, Derek Brouwer, reporter, Andrea Suozzo, data editor, Matthew Roy and Candace Page, editors, and James Buck, photographer.

Person stands at a podium
Emily Corwin / VPR

Monica Hutt, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL), said her department has delayed its rulemaking process for state-licensed long-term care homes to implement changes based on a joint investigation by VPR and Seven Days.

An illustration of a man holding up a SOLD sign in front of an older man in a rocking chair on a porch
Sean Metcalf / For Seven Days & VPR

On paper, Spring Village at Essex was a local endeavor. The developer of the planned eldercare home was South Burlington-based BlackRock Construction. Local business leaders vouched for the company's integrity when it sought a state license for the home in 2016.

But BlackRock had no say over the quality of care provided to the seniors who would live there. Its plan was to sell Spring Village to a Florida investment firm as soon as it was built. That firm would contract with yet another out-of-state company to operate it.

screenshot of Vermont Eldercare Navigator search function, at eldercare.sevendaysvt.com
Screenshot of Vermont Eldercare Navigator

A VPR and Seven Days investigation has uncovered instances of inadequate care, neglect and five untimely deaths at Vermont’s assisted living and residential care homes. Behind that joint reporting is a database of inspection reports and citations that took months to build.

A hand holds onto a cane
James Buck / For Seven Days & VPR

In early 2014, a caller to the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living reported that at Owen House, a residential care home in Fair Haven, a resident's foot was "rotting from the inside out" due to neuropathy and poor care.

Four people stand near a countertop with a framed photograph displayed
James Buck / For Seven Days & VPR

Vermont families who rely on eldercare homes often know little about their track records, despite state inspections that document problem after problem. Families make crucial care decisions in the dark.

A photo of an elderly woman using a walker while a health care worker assists her.
miodrag ignjatovic / iStock

A joint investigation by VPR and Seven Days uncovered inadequate care and staffing across Vermont’s eldercare facilities, deficiencies that ultimately led to indignities, injuries and at least five deaths.

We're talking to the reporters behind the Worse For Care series about the challenges faced by Vermont's assisted living and residential care homes.

A black and white illustration of silhouettes, a person caring for someone in a wheelchair and someone seated at a desk.
A-Digit / iStock

Like many Vermont eldercare homes, EastView at Middlebury was struggling to keep enough 'round-the-clock staff in early 2015. The nonprofit's 34 elderly residents were falling down more often as a result, a confidential complainant alleged February 3 of that year to Vermont's Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. The home was interviewing caregiver candidates almost daily and leaning on temp agencies to cover gaps, state records show.

A person in scrubs leans on a table filled with framed photos
James Buck / For Seven Days & VPR

After 12 years in caregiving, Malinga Mukunda still works long days. The Burlington resident starts most mornings at Community Health Centers, where she acts as a health coach for refugees, before switching into scrubs for her full-time job in the memory care unit at the Converse Home, an assisted living facility in Burlington. Her shift ends at 11 p.m.

'Worse For Care': About This Series

Nov 27, 2019

Families who make the difficult decision to place an elderly relative in a residential care or assisted living home must then ask: Which home?

A red building, snow on the ground
Jeb-Wallace Brodeur / Seven Days

Cota’s Hospitality Home looked just as you might picture a mom-and-pop eldercare residence in rural Vermont. Residents of the modest farmhouse outside Barre could sit on the porch under a rusty metal awning to watch cars pass by. The owners lived and worked there.

But inside the residential care home, regulators found chronic problems. Beginning in 2006, Cota’s operated in what the Vermont Attorney General’s Office would later describe as “substantial or habitual violation” of state rules.

'Worse For Care': When Elder Homes Stumble, Frail Vermonters Get Hurt

Nov 27, 2019
Two women sit behind a vase of flowers and a framed photograph of their mother
James Buck / For Seven Days & VPR

Marilyn Kelly's health declined quickly during her eight months at an eldercare home. The 78-year-old entered Our House Too in Rutland a spirited woman who could cast a fishing rod. She soon began taking falls, and her visiting daughters often found their mother slumped in a stupor.