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Saturday in the park: Residents clean up on 10th Street. Photo by Eileen Clynes.

Take Back the Park

After years of asking city for help in cleaning up a neglected park, Troy neighbors take matters into their own hands

For years, the park off 10th Street in Troy stood fast as a model of urban neglect. Amid knee-high weeds and grass, littered with broken bottles and loose trash, stood a few graffiti-riddled pieces of playground equipment and park benches—and not a child in sight.

The park’s basketball court was obviously out of commission, play suspended due to the fact that the only existing rim and backboard were obstructed by hanging tree limbs, and that the uneven surface of the court often was covered with large pools of rainwater.

The park, located in the underserved North Central district of Troy, is the nearest summer recreation spot for residents and children of 8th, 9th and 10th streets. And neighborhood children had been forced to deal with the decay for years—until last Saturday (July 6).

“We took it upon ourselves to clean this park up,” said neighborhood resident Corey Willis. Willis was one of 30-odd neighborhood residents who came to the park on Saturday morning armed with paint, push brooms and axes, donated by Troy Improvement and Rehabilitation Program, to clean it up so that the area’s kids would have a place to play.

For two years, residents of this neighborhood say, they tried to get the city to do something about the park. They invited city officials to neighborhood meetings, asked for the grass to be cut and branches pruned. But the city never responded, so neighbors finally decided to take care of it themselves.

“The city and the mayor are talking about how they need estimates for this and that, and it’s politics,” Willis said. “They’re just trying to talk their way out of it. The summer is going, and it’s too late to try and plan stuff. Forget talking about it, let’s be about it.”

Willis said that cleaning up the park was a way to keep the kids from finding other forms of recreation in the drug-laden streets of Troy’s North Central district.

“They have no summer camps or programs or anything,” Willis said. “I told the mayor, ‘They are our future, give them something!’”

“We had city officials come to our meetings a month ago, and as of yet we haven’t seen anything done,” said Ron Dukes, spokesperson for the 8th, 9th and 10th Streets Neighborhood Association. “The whole park is atrocious. I guess the city forgot about it.”

But Ted Keefe, superintendent of Troy’s Department of Public Works, said that what led to the park’s demise in the first place was the carelessness of the people from the neighborhood.

“In the past, neighborhood residents have not taken enough interest in keeping the park clean. We’ve had to remove washing machines, mattresses and tires from the park quite often,” Keefe said. “The park on 10th Street probably gets the least amount of attention of all the parks because of all the cleanup we have to do there. It’s like beating a dead horse.”

The group swept through the park Saturday and brought it closer to the standard of similarly sized parks, just across Hoosick Street, closer to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. By day’s end the grass was free of loose garbage and was well groomed. The basketball court’s unnatural wetland was drained, and axe-wielding teenage boys had hacked off obtrusive tree branches. A slide and the park benches received facelifts as well, with fresh coats of paint hiding multiple graffiti taggings.

After the headway made by the community on Saturday morning, Dukes isn’t interested in placing blame for the past on anyone. He just wants to make sure the park is regularly attended to, as would be the case with any other park in the city of Troy.

“This represents a new beginning for this neighborhood,” Dukes said. “This should be a 50-50 proposition. We’ve got people interested in keeping the park up, now we’re asking the city to help us keep it up.”

Dukes called Saturday’s effort “phase one” of the park’s rehabilitation; “phase two,” he said, will involve the addition of a second basketball rim and backboard and new fencing behind the hoops, and a repaving of the court at a grade that will allow water to drain. He hopes the improvements can be completed before summer’s end.

But after two years of frustration, Willis is less optimistic about working with the city on the park’s upkeep, and said he is ready to claim eminent domain over the 10th Street park to guarantee neighborhood kids a safe place to enjoy themselves.

“We’re going to try and have a cookout or block party in the park this weekend to celebrate,” Willis said. “We’ve just got to try to take these streets back by ourselves. We’ve got to come collective as a community.”

—Travis Durfee


Mark Gallucci

My Grandparents’ Keepers

Are staffing shortages and neglect endangering the welfare of elderly residents at Northwoods adult-care facility?

In the midst of an ongoing nursing-home labor dispute, two four-letter words drive Lia Bott to visit her grandfather daily: love and fear.

Bott’s grandfather, Joseph Tedesco, has Alzheimer’s disease, and when care could no longer be provided at home, he was moved into Rensselaer’s Northwoods Rehabilitation at Rosewood Gardens adult-care facility in January 2001. Since that time, Bott’s frustration has come to a boil watching her grandfather’s care spiral downward following a change in ownership at Northwoods and the nursing-home staff’s decision to unionize (much to the chagrin of the new owners).

During a recent visit, a small puddle of urine rested on the dining room floor of the dementia/Alzheimer’s wing as Bott and her grandfather awaited his meal. Over Tedesco’s intermittent outbursts of yelling in Italian, Bott spoke of coming to visit and finding him unchanged and unshowered, finding cockroaches in his room, and witnessing workers yelling at him to keep quiet and being physically abusive when caring for him becomes difficult.

“Because my grandfather yells, he has been overdosed on his meds to keep him quiet,” Bott said. “I find him slumped over in his chair, they put him in the room and shut the door on him. The director of nursing shows me the books stating that he has been given the correct dosage, but she can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I’m here everyday, I know he’s not supposed to be like that.

“We moved my grandfather in around the time when the new owners took over, and things were fine at first,” Bott said. “There was a physical therapist that would come and walk my grandfather, but that was very short lived. Things really started to deteriorate after a couple of months.

Bott said her grandfather’s druggings are but one example of questionable resident-management practices at Northwoods.

“They don’t have enough help here, and so they’ll herd everyone like cattle into one room so that one person can watch them,” she said.

Amanda Lee, a certified nursing assistant and one of two employees feeding four residents in the dementia/Alzheimer’s wing, explained that short staffing at the nursing home is a constant problem. According to Lee, one licensed practicing nurse and three aides care for 40 residents during a typical Monday 3-11 PM shift.

“We [employees] fill out short-staffing notices and give them to the administration every day to cover ourselves,” Lee said. “There used to be bed makers here, a housekeeping person, a physical therapist, but not anymore.”

Besides worrying about being able to properly care for a large number of residents at any given time, Lee said that staff also needs to deal with linen shortages, unreported accidents and skimpy food servings—at least since Highgate LTC Management, LLC, bought and took over the facility a few years ago.

Dr. Eugene Nachamkin is one of four partners in the ownership of Highgate LTC Management, a company that owns six adult-care facilities in New York state, including four in the Capital Region. He said that any problems with resident care began when the workers at the Northwoods facility decided to join with Local 1199 Service Employees International Union.

“In the year before the workers unionized we’ve received about five complaints; since the union’s involvement with the workers we’ve had about 50,” said Nachamkin. “Sure we have short staffing, but there are shortages everywhere. Nobody is going into nursing when they can make $9 an hour working in retail and won’t have to change a diaper.”

According to Nachamkin, the Northwoods facility maintains staffing in compliance with the Patient Review Instrument, an industry standard calculating the number of workers needed per shift, based on the level of care required per resident. As of yet, no state or federal standards exist requiring a set number of workers per resident, per shift in an adult-care facility.

The official U.S. government Web site for Medicare (www.medicare.gov), however, does. The site provides comparative information on all Medicare-certified adult-care facilities in the country.

With approximately 80 residents, Northwoods ranks below the state average of 170.4 residents per facility; it’s closer in size to the average nursing home in the country, which has 82.3 patients. Where the facility does fall short, however, is in staffing.

For each resident at Northwoods, staff are only able to provide 2.82 nursing hours per day, compared to the state average of 3.5 hours and the national average of 4 full nursing-staff hours.

Further, the Medicare site indicates that during 2001, inspectors reported six deficiencies in the functioning of Northwoods. Inspectors determined that Northwoods failed to “hire only people who have no legal history of abusing, neglecting or mistreating residents; or report and investigate any acts or reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment of residents.” The inspection also discovered that residents did not receive the care and services needed to obtain the “highest quality of life possible,” and that it did not make sufficient attempt to resolve resident complaints it a timely fashion.

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, each of these problems was “corrected” as of Jan. 31, 2002; however, the site does not indicate how the problems were corrected, nor if any further inspections took place beyond November 2001.

Yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, no one from Highgate LTC Management LLC was available for comment on the inspection and infractions.

As Tedesco’s wife, Amelia, fed him dinner on Monday evening, Bott wiggled the back of his chair with ease, showing its state of disrepair. In her grandfather’s room, she pointed out the bathroom’s blight: peeling wallpaper, a loose towel rack, a broken toilet-paper dispenser.

Bott said she has expressed her concerns to the workers and administration and has called the state Department of Health’s abuse hotline enough times that she has the number memorized.

“I’ve received letters of response from the Department of Health saying they are investigating, but nothing changes,” Bott said. “A state worker will call first and then come in and inspect things, and everybody jumps and starts working like they’re supposed to.”

Lee claims that Northwoods’ management is not willing to listen to her or other employees about resident care—that’s why they went to the 1199 SEIU, she said.

“I want a fair grievance process,” Lee said. “When something happens now, they tell me pick my battles before I take it to my supervisor who takes it to the director of nursing who takes it to the administrator.”

Nachamkin wishes his employees would work the existing channels of communication before running to the union with their every gripe.

“Our caregivers should be following our procedure to fix things. Now they’re calling the union and we never get to hear about it,” Nachamkin said.

Regardless, 8 AM tomorrow will find Amelia Tedesco at Rosewoods to spend the day with her husband until their granddaughter gets out of work. Joseph Tedesco may be screaming in Italian or he may be slumped over in his chair, but out of love and out of fear, his family will still be by his side.

—T.D.

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