By Cindy Wojdyla Cain, STAFF WRITER : Chicago Suburban News
Nursing Home: Generally good shape, but code violations must be fixed
JOLIET – A recent inspection of the Will County-owned Sunny Hill Nursing Home showed the facility is in pretty good shape, but there are 28 city code violations that must be corrected within 30 days.
Overall, the building rates a “B” in terms of safety and sanitation, said Dick Bazzarone, Joliet’s director of inspection services.
County officials called the city cited items mostly “cosmetic” and stress that nothing of a serious nature was detected in the 300-bed facility at 421 Doris Ave.
Bazzarone led a team of three inspectors into the nursing home Monday after he received a copy of a complaint from Barnebe Benegas, the facility’s former maintenance supervisor.
Benegas worked at Sunny Hill for almost three years and left under less than amicable circumstances. He contacted the Herald News to report maintenance problems at the nursing home. The Herald News contacted Bazzarone because the nursing home is in the city limits.
Built in 1957
Sunny Hill was built in 1957. Additions were added in 1972 and 1986.
City inspectors went through almost every nook and cranny in the facility on Monday, moving ceiling tiles, entering storage and utility rooms, flushing toilets and running water.
Some of Benegas’ most serious charges, that the building had loose asbestos in maintenance areas and widespread mold problems in residential areas, proved to be unfounded, Bazzarone said.
Other Benegas complaints were founded, including a hole in the floor of the bio-hazard storage room, which is used for medical wastes. The floor is over an employee lunchroom. Also, detected were dirt stained air vents and clogged air filters and condensation drains.
The filters are cleaned monthly, nursing home maintenance workers said.
“They shouldn’t be like this, though,” said David Mackley, the city’s building safety inspector. “You’re going to have to do it twice a month and step it up.”
Bazzarone and his crew also discovered problems not on Benegas’ list including an exhaust system that does not work in the boiler room. The broken system is causing excessive temperatures which could burn out motors and possibly lead to a fire hazard, Bazzarone said.
Also, cutting torch fuels were stored near an air handler and flammable chemicals were stored close to a hot water storage tank. Mattresses were stored in another air handler room. Boxes of residents’ possessions were stored near sprinkler system controls.
Less Serious Problems
During the inspection, Bazzarone and his crew noticed less serious problems: loose light fixtures, a blocked cold water tap for a bathtub, damaged ceiling tiles and a leaking water heater.
Benegas worked for the facility from May 1999 to February 2002. He told The Herald News that the building was “filthy and neglected” when he took over in 1999. Air filters were “like mud pies.” He tried to clean the facility as best he could.
When Benegas asked about major repairs he was told “it’s not in the budget.”
One of the problems Benegas reported, fire dampers that weren’t working, was discovered during a state architect’s inspection in April. About $18,000 was spent to repair the system in May, according to Sunny Hill administrator Mickie Stanley.
She said she never told him there wasn’t money in the budget to fix something.
“I wouldn’t take that responsibility,” she said. “… If somebody was going to say no – it would be the county (board).”
Benegas and Stanley bumped heads prior to him resigning. When he indicated he might look for work elsewhere, Stanley called him in to question a side business he had selling supplies to the nursing home, something Benegas said he did to save the facility money.
He said he had filled out all the paperwork required by the county for vendors and did not hide his business. He was suspended without pay. He was then reinstated and given his back pay after county officials told him he had not violated county rules.
After his computer and building maintenance records were confiscated he quit.
“I had just had it,” Benegas said.
No Resignation Comment
Stanley would not comment on Benegas’ resignation, saying it was a “personnel issue.”
She added that Benegas’ replacement is doing a good job supervising his staff of four.
Benegas, who often volunteered in the nursing home’s gift shop, said he is not criticizing the quality of care residents receive from Sunny Hill employees.
“But the quality of the environment itself is trash.”
Bazzarone said “there is some validity to what he had down here (in his complaint).”
But Bazzarone also added that Sunny Hill is no worse than a lot of aging buildings in the city.
“We see the same thing on every commercial building,” he said.
Bazzarone said he was more concerned about fire safety. Items stored around mechanical systems should be moved so they wouldn’t impede emergency workers.
“If we have to run in and shut the power down, we’re banging into this stuff,” he said.
Stanley said those items were moved immediately, some while the city inspectors were on the premises. All other suggested repairs would also be addressed, she added.
“I think we’ll have to look at rearranging our storage rooms,” she added.
After Bazzarone’s crew issued its list of 28 items, county building inspectors reviewed the list and found nothing serious except, perhaps, the hole in the bio-hazard room floor, said Steve Kuczkowski, the county’s deputy building official. Nothing else was a violation of the county’s own building codes.
“We couldn’t find any major problems with the building,” said Ron Grotovsky, the county’s land use director.
But Bazzarone said the items detected, including no elevator certification, were a combination of city property maintenance, fire and building code violations.
“I’ve been here 30 year,” he said. “I know what a code violation is.”
Leaking condenser coils, for instance, aren’t cosmetic, he said.
“If creates bacteria and mold if it’s not handled properly.”
As for the filters that nursing home officials said had been cleaned monthly, Bazzarone was skeptical.
“If they had been changed in two years, I will eat that filter,” he said.