Class action lawsuit filed against The Citadel in Salisbury, site of NC’s largest COVID-19 outbreak

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 4:49 PM EDT
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - A class action lawsuit was filed on Monday in Rowan County on behalf of two residents of The Citadel and members of their families. The suit was filed by Wallace & Graham of Salisbury.

The Citadel is a congregate-care facility located on Julian Road in Salisbury and was the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the state last year.

There were 189 COVID-19 infections at The Citadel and 18 COVID-19 deaths, according to records in Rowan County.

The defendants in the case are The Citadel, Salisbury Two NC Propco LLC, a limited liability company organized under North Carolina law, with a principal place of business at 710 Julian Road, Accordius Health LLC, The Portopiccolo Group LLC, Simcha Hyman, and Naftali Zanziper, both listed as “sole members of The Portopiccolo Group LLC.”

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The allegations involve “severe systematic understaffing at the Citadel nursing home.”

The suit also says the plaintiffs paid for staffing and didn’t receive the services they were promised.

The suit says that conditions at The Citadel when it was known as Genesis, were poor, and that they got even worse when the facility was purchased by the private equity firm Portopiccolo on February 1, 2020.

“The conditions at the facility grew worse as Genesis sought to cut costs and divest assets to satisfy its loan obligations. Genesis suffered financial reverses and became indebted to a private equity parent called Formation Capital.

By 2014, Genesis was paying more than $750 million a year on interest, rent, and transaction fees and interest rates as high as 22.2 percent on some of its credit lines,” the suit alleges.

Defendants Hyman and Zanziper, “while being aware of the dire conditions at the Facility, made no efforts to require Genesis to upgrade conditions prior to the sale. On the contrary, during this time Hyman and Zanziper were assuring prospective lenders that they would be able to cut millions of dollars of costs even after acquiring the new facilities.”

Cost savings would come about as a result of cuts to staffing and saving “$360,000 by lowering expenses associated with employee benefits and insurance and $410,000 by cutting equipment and transportation costs.”

These cuts compromised the care of residents, according to the lawsuit.

“Nursing staff found themselves working in chaotic. Hyman and Zanziper cut off contracts of vendors Genesis had used. The facility’s situation worsened as the new owners refused to carry forward paid time off and other pay and benefit agreements that Genesis had in place. Many staff left the Facility, no longer willing to work there. These events occurred at the Citadel in February 2020 before the advent of COVID-19 at the Facility, nor can Defendants blame COVID-19 for their actions.”

There are also details in the lawsuit alleging that one of the plaintiffs, a resident at The Citadel, asked why her roommate wasn’t quarantined in April 2020 despite having a fever and cough. The resident said staff told to “keep her curtain pulled” in case her roommate had COVID.

That same resident was also allegedly given an incorrect dosage for her diagnosed cardiac condition, atrial fibrillation. Later, the resident says that when she received her medications that night, “she had a different pill in place of one of her normal heart medications. She questioned it and the nurse assured her it was the correct one. She finally took the pill. A later review of her chart, however, reflected that her prescribed dose was 10 mg yet the dose she was administered was 40 mg.”

The lawsuit wants The Citadel’s parent company to pay residents and their families damages.

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