Oswego and state Department of Health keeping an eye on Pontiac Nursing Home

Pontiac Nursing Home on East River Road in Oswego. Randy Pellis/Oswego County News

OSWEGO — Mayor William Barlow’s recent threat to close the Pontiac Nursing Home over excessive heat and inadequate air conditioning remains in effect, though somewhat on hold, as local temperatures have come down from the late June highs that resulted in residents’ rooms hitting temperatures of 85 degrees.

Upon receiving a Pontiac employee’s complaint of “horrible” conditions at the East River Road nursing home June 29, Barlow ordered the Oswego City Police and Code Enforcement Office to immediately inspect the facility. Police described finding “indoor temperature as high as 85 degrees in at least three rooms and 82 degrees in the lobby,” Barlow wrote the next day in a letter to the state Department of Health.

Upon completing its inspection, Code Enforcement gave Pontiac until 9 a.m. the following day to provide adequate air conditioning. By the next morning, Barlow’s letter goes on, inspectors found “eight of the 13 rooms still had inadequate air conditioning and excessive heat.”

At that point, Barlow requested DOH join with the city to ensure Pontiac’s immediate compliance.

“Should the situation continue without being brought into full compliance in the coming days,” Barlow wrote, “the city of Oswego will order the facility closed.”

That has not happened yet.

“The State DOH visited the Pontiac last week to monitor the room temperatures upon receipt of my letter,” Barlow wrote in a Friday afternoon, July 9 email. “The facility did not yet install working air conditioning, but the outside temperature had dropped dramatically and therefore the temperature readings came in compliant. We are monitoring the temperature and will be in contact with facility staff and DOH again should temperatures rise.”

On July 16, Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond provided details of their recent dealings with Pontiac.

“To ensure residents remain comfortable and safe,” Hammond wrote, “DOH has been in communication with the leadership of the Pontiac Nursing Home about the temperature concerns raised by Mayor Barlow. The facility reports that all resident rooms have air conditioning units and has been directed to provide evidence of ongoing monitoring of room temperatures. DOH remains in close contact with this facility to ensure adequate room temperatures and is reviewing Mayor Barlow’s letter.

“DOH has multiple tools available to hold all nursing homes accountable when they fail to meet their legal obligations to residents and the community,” Hammond went on. “As a result, Pontiac Nursing Home was designated a Special Focus Facility on March 4 due to a persistent record of poor care. DOH will continue to hold Pontiac and all other providers accountable for their actions.”

According to Hammond, Special Focus Facilities are subject to double the scrutiny of other nursing homes. They are inspected every six months for compliance with all Medicare health and safety requirements and must show significant improvement or face additional enforcement actions. All other nursing homes are inspected once a year.

Furthermore, according to Hammond, removal from the Special Focus Facilities program requires two consecutive successful inspections that find no widespread deficiencies or substantiated complaints that rise above a level causing minimal harm to residents.

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