Witherell Board Chair Larry Simon Reappointed to Third Term After Tense RTM Vote

Monday’s RTM meeting included a vote on a third term for Larry Simon who is chair of the board of directors of the Greenwich’s nursing home, the Nathaniel Witherell.

Greenwich is the only municipality in Connecticut with its own nursing facility.

Mr. Simon has been chair since 2016 when he succeeded David Ormsby, who had served in that role for 10 years.

Mr. Simon’s tenure has coincided with the pandemic, the facility’s drop from a 5 star rating with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to 3 stars in 2021, and more recently sinking to 1-star after Medicare inspections noted multiple deficiencies including abuse, and recently, a significant accounts receivable issue.

Last week the BET indicated their Audit Committee would conduct an outside audit of the facility’s billing and receivable process after it was revealed there is $11 million in outstanding debt collection, having mushroomed from $4.5 million in June 2021.

At Monday’s RTM meeting, there were strong voices both in support and opposed to Mr. Simon’s renomination.

“The decline in Witherell’s star rating doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Larry Simon. Rather, we believe it falls squarely on Town Hall and its pressure to cut the Witherell budget beyond a sustainable care level.”

– Sheilah Smith, Nathaniel Witherell Family Council co-chair
State Rep Steve Meskers, who is a longtime member of the RTM, spoke in favor of the reappointment of Mr. Simon. He has questioned why the Witherell shouldn’t be considered like other departments the town funds, including schools and police. Oct 24, 2022

Steve Meskers, who is a State Rep (D-150) as well as a member of RTM, spoke in favor of Mr. Simon who he said, “has given his heart and soul to the town when he could be off looking for sunnier skies.”

“We’re going to be sitting with a decision in December about the level of town involvement in the facility,” Meskers said. “To to take people who dedicated their time and the treasure of their concern, and not allow them to be part of that decision – I think is an error.”

“Vote no to save lives immediately.”

– Fred Lee, district 1

Meskers noted the difficult circumstances during the pandemic and challenges in general for the nursing home industry.

“You know what’s going on in the hospitals with nurses. You know the shortages, the inability to get the appropriate help. It’s awful,” he said.

RTM member Tara Restieri, who is on the Board of Human Services, talked about a lack of accountability. Oct 24, 2022

Tara Restieri spoke passionately against Mr. Simon’s reappointment.

She said CMMS inspection that resulted in the 1-star rating was not a simple snapshot in time.

“To explain how a 1 star works, from the CMMS website, the health inspection star rating is based on each current health inspection, and two prior inspections, as well as the finding from the most recent three years of complaint inspections, and three years of infection control inspections.”

Restieri said it was unfair that the chair and director had pointed fingers of blame at staff.

“Where does the buck stop?” she asked.

“I think I bring enough oversight and direction to Witherell that I should be appointed for a third, and I guarantee you, a last term.”

– Larry Simon, Nathaniel Witherell board chair

“We encourage the First Selectman, Witherell’s executive director, board chair and directors to look within so that a genuine effort can be made to restore Witherell to the quality facility that Greenwich expects.”

She talked about a lack of accountability and disagreed with those who said no one else was up to the job.

“Mr. Simon, just because there’s ‘not a long line out the door,’ it’s not an excuse for the state Nathaniel Witherell is in. Blame staff. Blame Covid.”

“Now we start training? Now we start internal audits? Why didn’t that happen in 2019 when the star rating dropped from 5 to 3?” she asked. “You need to be held accountable. No one wants the job, so we should just leave you there?”

She brought up Covid death reporting at Witherell. She said while the Board of Human Services was told there had been 11 deaths from Covid at the facility, the Witherell reported 24 deaths to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services since May 2020.

Sheilah Smith, co-chair of the Family Council at the Witherell, urged the reappointment of Mr. Simon.

“The decline in Witherell’s star rating doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Larry Simon,” Ms Smith said. “Rather, we believe it falls squarely on Town Hall and its pressure to cut the Witherell budget beyond a sustainable care level.”

She also said the town’s reluctance to settle the Teamster’s contract led to “very low staff morale,” and there were some “less than stellar” staff hires.

She said Mr. Simon had a clear understanding of the Witherell, as well as the nursing home industry.

She said consistency of board leadership was important during “this time of turmoil.”

“Mr. Simon should be given the opportunity to complete the RFP process initiated by the First Selectman’s office two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, and put an end finally to the uncertainty of the future of Nathaniel Witherell.”

Fred Lee from District 1 urged members to “vote no to save lives immediately.” Oct 24, 2022

Fred Lee from district 1 urged members to “vote no for the safety and well being of Greenwich’s seniors.”

“The current board has not upheld their responsibilities of oversight of Witherell. As recently as Oct 13 at the BOC meeting, Mr. Simon had not taken any responsibility for the current two year slide and the CMMS rating from 5-star to 1 star.”

He said while Mr. Simon indicated he is responsible for strategy, not operations, the slide to 1 star indicated the strategy was defective as well.

He also questioned Mr. Simon’s praise of Witherell executive director John Mastronardi in August.

“I’m not sure we should be praising at a time when we had 24 deaths due to Covid since May 2020,” Mr. Lee said. “According to the executive director at last week’s board meeting, they continue to fail many of the same violations according to their own mock surveys.”

“We, the RTM, need to vote no to literally save lives,” Lee said. “I’m asking you to vote no to prevent any further patient neglect at Nathaniel Witherell.”

“Vote no to save lives immediately,” Mr. Lee added.

Health & Human Services committee member Donna Gaudioso-Zeale, a former healthcare administrator, said Mr. Simon should have a seat at the table when the fate of the Witherell is determined.

She said he had learned from mistakes and should be given a chance to straighten out the Witherell. Also he has been on the BET and knows the philosophy of the town.

“Where are you going to get someone with those skillsets at this late date?” Gaudioso-Zeale asked.

She credited Mr. Simon for recruiting volunteer experts to the board.

“Most hospital systems pay a large amount of money to get these types of individuals on the board.”

She said while “boots on the ground” were the administrators of a facility, the buck stopped with the board. “If there is a problem, it’s under their direction that the change should be made, and this board has made the change by getting rid of the Director of Nursing, who writes the policies for this institution.”

Chair of the board of directors of the Nathaniel Witherell, Larry Simon, was renominated for a third term, which he said would be his last. Oct 24, 2022

Mr. Simon addressed the RTM himself saying that his experience made him the right person to guide the Witherell to its destination, whether or not that may be privatization, over the next six months.

“I think I bring enough oversight and direction to Witherell that I should be appointed for a third, and I guarantee you, a last term,” he added.

“There have been changes that have to be made at Witherell. I’d be hard pressed to minimize things that went on, and we made some changes, especially related to the survey results, which were terrible, in finance relative to the AR which is also terrible, and food service, which is not good.”

“My job is to make sure that the administration focuses on a certain number of items – not all of them at once – to make sure we get enough resources from the town and that we follow the town budget procedures and do the best we can within the constraints.”

The vote to approve Mr. Simon’s re-nomination was 113 yes; 87 no; 10 abstentions.

On Dec 15th, from 5:30 to 7:00pm there will be a meeting for public input on the future of the Witherell.