‘Prioritized profits over people’: AG Shapiro announces Darby nursing home manager’s guilty plea after three residents die

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks from behind a podium

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks at a press conference in Darby on Wednesday, June 2. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY).

During a rare trip to Darby from Harrisburg Wednesday, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that Chaim “Charlie” Steg, a local nursing home manager, has pleaded guilty to three counts of reckless endangerment — a 2017 case that could have far-reaching implications even in 2021.

“A nursing home executive disregarded resident care by routinely and recklessly understaffing his nursing home, the St. Francis Center for Rehabilitation and Health Care. And this systemic environment of neglect, which came to a head in 2017, caused three people under his care and under the care of the facility to sustain severe bodily harm and injuries that we believe directly led to their deaths,” Shapiro said.

Steg, the former regional director of operations at St. Francis Center in Darby, faces up to 23 months of house arrest, three years of probation, and a five-year ban on interacting with health care facilities. On top of that, Steg will be forced to pay a $15,000 fine and restitution to the families of the victims. St. Francis will be audited by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and, as a result of a civil settlement, be required to maintain a higher minimum-staffing level.

A joint investigation between the Attorney General’s Office and Darby Borough Police began in 2017, when nurses from nearby Mercy Catholic Medical Center sounded the alarm on the deteriorating condition of residents who were transferred from the nursing home to the hospital.

The three patients suffered from dehydration, sepsis, bowel obstructions, and pressure wounds. The investigation found that those conditions were the result of insufficient care from St. Francis.

Shapiro said that staff shortages were to blame, and that Steg repeatedly ignored warnings from his own employees.

“Get this: Many witnesses came before our grand jury telling us about the desperate situation at the facility. They reported that St. Francis refused to pay enough to retain staff and didn’t bring in enough temporary staff to fill in whatever gaps existed,” Shapiro said.

One St. Francis employee reported issues of short staffing 40 times.

Shapiro said the inadequate staffing was not the result of financial hardship, but rather total negligence.

“They could afford to schedule more staff. They could afford to hire more staff. They had the option and the ability to make this right, but they chose not to. In the end, Steg recklessly prioritized profits over people — profits over their loved ones,” Shapiro said, gesturing toward the families of the victims who were present at Wednesday’s press conference.

The families asked that their privacy be respected, so they stood off-camera.

When the state Department of Health was first notified of the issues back in 2017, it declared the facility an “immediate jeopardy.”

“They placed the facility on what’s known as a provisional license, which halted any new admissions to the facility,” Shapiro said.

In addition to being under audit, the two companies that run the facility, 1412 Lansdowne Operating LLC and Catholic Health Group, had to pay $600,000 into an escrow account for the benefit of the facility’s residents.

“Look, let me just say this, in closing: Nothing, no amount of money, no number of criminal charges brought or pled to is going to be enough for the families who missed out on their final years with their loved ones,” Shapiro said.

With that in mind, Shapiro put other nursing facilities on notice: His office is paying close attention to their behavior.

Though this case occurred before the pandemic, staff shortages at health care facilities have increasingly become an issue.

“We have several criminal investigations ongoing into nursing homes during the time of COVID, and we will be making the announcements that we can make relatively shortly on that,” Shapiro said.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal