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Retirement home administrator says no change necessary after report of abandoned staff

ELSBERRY, Mo. - More former administrators spoke out about alleged understaffing at Missouri residential care facilities. Now the woman in charge is answering the allegations.

Bristol Manor’s Joyce Furnell launched an immediate investigation after our February report. We told you then about a 21-year-old who said he felt abandoned at an Elsberry, Missouri facility and was running out of supplies.

I asked Furnell, “Is there anything that you acknowledge you needed to change and did change after the report?”

“No, there was not,” she said.

Furnell’s Bristol Manor has been in the spotlight ever since Reed Armistead contacted Fox 2 pleading for help. He said he was often alone, working 120-hour weeks and unable to take care of four special needs residents around the clock.

Furnell said her records showed the 21-year-old worked no more than three straight days without help.

“That was really Reed’s call and I say that because the manager of our care facilities hires staff and also schedules staff, so we give them quite the autonomy to do those things,” she said.

Armistead told us he felt forced to ask his fiancée to help when she wasn't at her full-time job, because Bristol Manor’s corporate office would not send promised help.

Two other former administrators claimed they were stranded in charge of a facility they could not leave.

“You just kinda feel like you’re in prison,” said Katie Cruzan, who worked at the Bristol Manor in Washington, Missouri.

“I honestly did not know what day of the week it was,” she said. “I just knew I would get up, do meds, fix them breakfast, try and take a shower, which was hard because as soon as I got in the shower they’d be knocking on my door.”

“Sometimes even handing their meds out I would have to take a break because I would start crying.”
Another woman, who does not want to be identified, did the same job as Armistead until she says broke down.
“I tried calling (corporate) twice a week, trying to get help,” she said.

She recorded a phone call in which she told a regional manager, “I’m here every day and I don’t get any help from you guys. I’m taking it out on the residents. It’s not fair to them. So I need to go.”

The corporate manager responded on the recording, “Okay, okay, I understand that, but you’ll give me till next Wednesday to find somebody?”

She said they didn’t send anybody. She couldn't take it and then wrote a nasty letter to the newest employee, Armistead, putting him in charge. She wrote that he could face jail time if he left.

“That note I left just is what I was told would happen, like if I was to abandon the building, I would go to jail.”

Are employees told that they could be brought up on some kind of charge if they leave?

“So what they’re talking about is the employee disqualification list,” Furnell said. She said that's like a blacklist for employees who abandon people in their care, based on a state regulation.

“The Missouri Department of Health and Sr. Services, or local authorities for that matter, can bring charges of elder abuse against that person,” Furnell said. Furnell said that after our report, State DHSS inspectors cited Bristol Manor, not for any staffing issues or alleged dwindling supplies, but for when the, “…facility manager left the residents alone and the facility unattended on three separate occasions to go shopping for the facility.” The report also notes that he, “…allowed (his) fiancée to work without the proper training and background checks.”

Does Furnell think her centers have a staffing problem?

“I don’t think we have any more of a staffing problem than any other business in Missouri,” she said.

Furnell was asked to explain why three of her former administrators felt that to be the case.

“I would say that those three former administrators probably were not following our policies and recommendations, not using the tools that are available to them.”

Furnell also revealed that another agency, Missouri Protection Advocacy Services, sent her a letter dated April 23, saying "Based on evidence obtained in the course of the preliminary investigation, no further investigation will be conducted into the allegation that Bristol Manor staff abused/neglected the residents of Bristol Manor by not providing them with appropriate food, medications and living conditions."

Furnell also pulled Missouri State Law showing that for a residential care facility, the requirement is that only “one employee shall be on duty for every 40 residents...”

She said she did find Bristol Manor owed Armistead backpay for additional hours. She said she could not legally tell us how much, but said it wasn’t for the number of hours he’d claimed in our report.