By Jennifer Corr
In December, New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, located in Woodbury, for fraud and mismanagement that led to under-staffing, which ultimately resulted in neglect and harm.
According to a press release from the Office of the Attorney General, an investigation by the office found that Cold Spring Hills’ owners “diverted over $22.6 million in Medicaid and Medicare funds from resident care through a fraudulent network of companies that were used to conceal up-front profit taking.”
And even before the pandemic started, owners cut staffing of the 588-bed facility. This was done despite being warned by the Department of Health, according to the lawsuit, that the facility needed to prepare for the pandemic in February of 2020.
In recent reviews of the nursing home, its evident that residents do not report quality care.
Recent reviews left on Google include:
“Do not send your family here. The place is disgusting, moldy, and my relative went uncared for, for days on end. This place should be closed down.”
“I’m not sure why my brother was place here in the first place. No one answers the phones. I can’t find out when he is going home. They managed to lose all his clothes so he has nothing to wear. I’m going to try and get him out of there.”
“Zero stars. Don’t send anyone there unless you want them to be neglected and die. That is what happened to my mom. She was there for rehab only and they treated her like she didn’t matter. We visited daily. She was healthy just not mobile. They are abusing the patients and neglecting them. And they don’t care one bit about the people.”
Included in James’ lawsuit is testimony from staff and family members of residents also describe “bleak” conditions of the facility, such as an unclean facility and broken critical care equipment like wheelchairs, beds, shower chairs and air conditioners. According to the lawsuit, residents were routinely left sitting in soiled briefs and went for long periods of time without bathing. And failure of providing proper wound care and prevention for residents caused wounds to develop and existing wounds to deteriorate, leading to infections. Residents and their families also reported deficiencies in safe and adequate care when it came to providing for nutrition and medication.
One testimony in the suit described how a diabetic resident who had difficulty walking was given a wheelchair without footrests.
“He had to drag both of his feet on the floor and as a result developed sores on his right foot,” the testimony stated. “He was taken to the hospital and had to have part of his toe amputated because of the severity of his infections. Shortly after returning to Cold Spring Hills, he died.”
The man’s co-guardian was not informed of his condition after he returned to the facility, and was also not told when the man died.
“Cold Spring Hills’ owners put profits over patient care and left vulnerable New Yorkers to live in heartbreaking and inhumane conditions,” said James. “From Buffalo to Long Island, every nursing home in New York must abide by laws that require the best care for New Yorkers. As Attorney General, I am determined to use the full force of my office to hold nursing homes to that standard, and ensure New Yorkers are protected. I encourage anyone who has witnessed alarming conditions, resident neglect, or abuse at a nursing home to contact my office.”
The lawsuit alleges that the operators of Cold Springs used 13 companies so that it would appear they were paying for services, but were in fact diverting Medicaid and Medicare funds to themselves. The network of companies were also used to hide the real owners of the nursing home. “From 2017 through 2021, Cold Spring Hills received over $157 million from New York’s Medicaid program and over $88 million from Medicare to provide critical care to its elderly and disabled residents,” the press release stated. “Cold Spring Hills’ operators used three primary fraudulent schemes to siphon over $22.6 million in Medicaid and Medicare funds from Cold Spring Hills.”
Alleged in the lawsuit is that the respondents paid more than $15.3 million in fraudulent “rent” to Cold Spring Realty, which owns the property where the nursing home is located, and happens to be owned by the same individuals who operate the nursing home. Another $5.2 million plus was paid to several deceptive entities for “consulting.” Another $10.6 million was used in a transaction with apparent insurance companies, and another $8.1 million was spent on an entity that apparently dealt in services and supplies. The respondents of the lawsuit include, “Cold Spring Hills, the actual facility; Cold Spring Realty Acquisition, LLC (Cold Spring Realty), which owns the property where the nursing home is located; Ventura Services, LLC, Highview Management Inc., B&L Consulting, LLC, all of which claim to provide consulting services to nursing homes; Graph MGA, LLC, Graph Management, LLC, Graph Insurance Company A Risk Retention Group, which purportedly act as insurance brokerages; Philipson Family, LLC, which is a partial owner of Cold Spring Realty; Lifestar Family Holdings, which is a partial owner of Cold Spring Realty; Comprehensive Care Solutions, LLC, which purported to provide services and supplies; and Ross CSH Holdings, LLC, Rosewell Associates, LLC, and ZBL Management, LLC, all pass-through companies. Also named in the suit is the principal owner, Bent Philipson, whose role was concealed, Benjamin Landa, whose concealed his ownership; Joel Leifer; as well as David Zahler, his wife Chaya Zahler, their adult children Rochel David, Leah Friedman, Chaim Zahler, and Jacob Zahler, Avi Philipson (Bent Philipson’s adult son), Esther Farkovits (Benjamin Landa’s adult daughter), Rochel David and Leah Friedman (the Zahlers’ daughters) were straw owners of the nursing home, put in place to conceal their fathers’ control. Also named in the suit is Cheskel Berkowitz, Joel Zupnick, and the Estate of Deborah Philipson.” The Syosset Jericho Tribune searched for web presence of the consulting services, insurance brokerages and Comprehensive Care Solutions, LLC, to no avail besides listings on business databases and very little LinkedIn presence. The Syosset Jericho Tribune also received no response after reaching out to Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing and Rehabilition and Bent Philipson. But Benjamin Landa’s attorney, Howard Fensterman, did reply.
“My client as an owner of the real estate is not involved with the nursing home operations and is merely a landlord who has no liability as it relates to nursing home operations,” Fensterman said.
This is not the first time Landa, the founder of SentosaCare, and his partner Bent Philipson has been under suspicion for fraud when it comes to nursing homes. In 2015, ProPublica released a story alleging that Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation & Health Care Center on Long Island was one of several nursing homes in a group of for-profit homes affiliated with SentosaCare, LLC, that have a record of repeat fines, violations and complaints for deficient care in recent years.
“Despite that record, SentosaCare founder Benjamin Landa, partner Bent Philipson and family members have been able to expand their nursing home ownerships in New York, easily clearing regulatory reviews meant to be a check on repeat offenders,” the article stated.
Fensterman said SentosaCare was approved by the Department of Health at the time, but from April of 2019 forward, Landa was bought out of the real estate, and had no relationship with the building, and
never the operations.
—The Office of the Attorney General provided information for this story.