Guest Column: Ex-River Bluff employee asks elected officials to 'take action'

Editor’s note: The following column was submitted by Diane Bergquist, former admissions coordinator at River Bluff Nursing Home, Winnebago County’s 304-bed nursing facility on North Main Street. Bergquist served at River Bluff until June 27, 2005, when she was told not to report back to work. Bergquist said she had submitted her resignation to be effective July 1, 2005.

Many of the stories included in the following column are similar to allegations reported by whistle blowers in a three-part series on River Bluff in The Rock River Times in April 2003.

In January 2005, a River Bluff bookkeeper was arrested and charged with allegedly stealing more than $172,000 from the nursing home. Her supervisor was forced to resign. River Bluff is also currently fighting at least one lawsuit in Winnebago County Circuit Court.

The Rock River Times joins whistle blowers such as Bergquist in requesting that Winnebago County Board members investigate these allegations before another patient is injured, before more money disappears from the nursing home’s funds, and before any more lawsuits are filed against the County or the nursing home.

Do you ever wonder what really goes on at River Bluff Nursing Home, your County home? We hear that River Bluff is the best in the area. There are many good CNAs, and there are good nurses who genuinely care, have compassion and live up to the oath they took to become a nurse. I call those individuals heroes.

However, assuming that it is the best, why are there so many cover-ups? The current administration has no integrity, nor does it know the definition of professionalism. Worst of all, they have no compassion and no heart for the nursing home residents. If the resident requires little care, he or she becomes a favorite. If the resident is difficult, he or she is chastised, neglected, threatened, abused, etc. Many potentially new residents who require more care are denied admission to the home. The excuse from administration is always, “Tell them we do not have an appropriate bed available.” I say, “What about the open beds on other units?” NOT APPROPRIATE! Are we not a nursing home?

While you are reading this article, picture these helpless senior citizens as your mom, dad, sister, son or daughter. No, REALLY imagine that these individuals are your family or maybe even you.

I cannot use names of residents or nurses because of confidentiality. Therefore, I will use fictitious names for residents and conceal the identity of the nurses.

Donald is in the hospital. The Unit Coordinator asks if I have heard anything. I say “No.” She says, “Well, he needs to die anyway.” I asked her to please not say that in my office anymore because I didn’t want anyone to think it was I who said that. COMPASSION?

Eric is having problems breathing because his oxygen tank is in the red. When the Unit Coordinator is told, her comment is, “If he thinks he is having problems breathing now, he keeps complaining, and he hasn’t seen nothing yet.” My report to administration was ignored. THREAT?

Sherry: “Please, someone take me to the bathroom, my light has been on for 40 minutes.” The answer from the floor nurse on the unit is, “Poop in the bed, we do not have time to take you to the bathroom.” Sherry begs, “Please don’t make me do that,” and begins crying. She is left to poop in the bed. My report to administration was ignored. DIGNITY?

Jane, a very alert resident: A registered nurse on second shift brings Jane her medicine. Jane tells the nurse that the pills are not hers. The nurse says “Yes, they are, just take them.” The resident refuses. I understand that this happens a lot. Did we lose any of our residents because of getting the wrong medicine? Or maybe did they even get their heart medicine that day? The nurse is disciplined (after numerous complaints) by moving her to another unit where most of the residents are not alert enough to know whether they are getting the right medicine. INCOMPETENT? SCARY?

Angelina is slapped in the face by a CNA who has “personal problems.” Angelina had a witness—her roommate, who was also very alert. I reported it via their so-called “chain of command.” I am told that I am interfering. Again, nothing is done. The CNA is still there and is still abusing some residents. ABUSE?

It is a weekend. Scheduled staff is down to a minimum, as usual. Alma falls to the floor. No one notices. No one knows how long she has been lying there. Finally, when someone does notice, she is taken to the hospital. She had to have surgery, and never recovered…she died. Was this your mother? Everything about Alma was and is very quiet around the “Bluff.” UNDERSTAFFED? NEGLECT?

Donna is crying and, as loud as she can, yells: “Please, someone help me! Please, my light has been on for a long time, please help me!” When I went to see what was wrong with Donna, her oxygen cord was wrapped around her wheelchair, and she was having problems breathing. Two RNs are sitting at their nurse’s station chatting about whatever is important to them at the moment, definitely not the helpless residents for whom they are getting paid to care. I reported this to administration. One administrator became red in the face and appeared to be very angry with me. NEGLECT?

Rory has a disease similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is a terminal resident. He and his wife were lied to, starting with an infamous assessment. Management did its best to talk them out of placing Rory at River Bluff. They told them “It sure won’t be as nice as you have it here.” Once they got to the “Bluff,” that is exactly what they received…“bluff” from administration. Rory put his call light on to go to the bathroom. I personally witnessed the time. It was 40 minutes. The same two uninterested nurses sitting at the nurse’s station, chatting. I went to Phyllis Schwebke (administrator), told her what I had witnessed, and asked: “Is there any reason the nurses cannot answer the call light?” She made a call, and that was the end of that.

Gert is a terminally ill resident. Her end stage of life is now comfort care. She has multiple sclerosis and cancer. Her doctor’s orders are that she may request morphine whenever she needs it. When Gert asks for her pain medicine, the nurse tells her that she will decide when Gert gets her medicine. “I’m not going to give it to you right now,” the nurse said. “You don’t need it. I’ll come back in a few hours. I will decide when to give you morphine.” How’s that compassion for a dying human being?

Mary, my dear mother-in-law, was told she had to wait 30 minutes to go to the bathroom. When I confronted the RN, she ignored me and said to my mother-in-law: “Mary, are you causing problems on my unit? Because if you are, my girls will not take care of you.” Nothing much happened in the way of discipline with this RN, either. Others complained to Phyllis Schwebke about this so-called nurse. However, she was finally let go when she told a Hispanic resident “If you are going to live here, you better learn how to speak English.” DIGNITY, THREATS, NEGLECT, HUMILIATION?

This next one just put me over the edge, and forced me to resign my position of admissions coordinator. I heard a resident crying for help: “Please, don’t hurt me! Somebody help me, please!” When I followed the pleas for help, I saw the dental hygienist with her leg up on the resident holding her down with her entire body. She was digging in the resident’s mouth with some instrument. I went to Phyllis and Myrna Pullin (director of nursing) and showed them, hoping that if I showed them, it would have more of an impact. Myrna said: “She came to me and said that she had to restrain the resident. I told her that from now on, she needs to call for assistance.” Phyllis said, “So you took care of it, Myrna?” Myrna said “Yes.” I threw up my arms and said, “Whatever.” Two days later, I reported the incident to the state and then submitted my resignation.

As you already know, a significant sum of money recently came up missing from the business office. The associate administrator was “let

go.” Phyllis says she didn’t know about any of this. As recently as June 20, 2005, there still are families asking: “Why hasn’t any money been taken out of my mom’s account for over a year? Are we going to get a large bill all at once?” Phyllis’s favorite words are, “I didn’t know about it.” Why is she not held accountable for everything at River Bluff? After all, isn’t she the administrator? Does she still not know what is going on in the facility for which she is responsible? Who on the Winnebago County Board is protecting her job?

I know many letters have been sent to [Winnebago County Board Chairman] Scott Christiansen. Winnebago County Board members were also copied on the letters. I also know that many were sent CERTIFIED, so they did receive them. Board members, these concerns have been sent to you by family members who have loved ones at River Bluff Nursing Home. Are you elected officials above giving these people a courtesy call acknowledging their correspondence they sent to you in a CERTIFIED LETTER? Are their concerns falling on deaf ears?

You know all of us at one point in our life will know someone, have a loved one, or maybe even you yourselves will end up in a skilled nursing facility. If we don’t begin to hold caregivers accountable for the neglect, abuse, dignity issues, humiliation, etc., what will it be like for us? Or, food for thought? Maybe one of your children, a victim of a horrific accident, will end up in the hands of some of these caregivers. FRIGHTENING? This someday could be your wake-up call.

I have advocated for our moms, dads, brothers, sisters and children for two years. This has become my mission. I will not stop until positive changes are made. I am begging our elected officials to take action. I have listed only a few of the many problems at the Bluff. What will it take for you to take IMMEDIATE ACTION?


Looking forward to the next Winnebago County Board election.

From the July 6-12, 2005, issue

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