PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — When Kevin Harris got a second job as a housekeeper at an assisted living facility, he was pretty happy. Not only would the additional income be a boost, but the job in Petersburg would be at the same place where his girlfriend had just started working, too.

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His joyful feelings soured within his first hours working at Fillmore Place.

Less than a month after his last day there, Harris met 8News a block away to recall what working there was like. He flipped through photos he’d sent to us — recalling the unsanitary conditions he said he found elderly and disabled residents living in.

“If their families came here, I’m pretty sure all these residents would have been removed already because of how nasty it is,” he said.

In many rooms, Harris said he saw bedding, including bed bug covers, ripped and soiled beyond the help of his girlfriend’s laundering abilities during her brief stint at Fillmore.

“That’s unacceptable,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t want my dog sleeping on nothing like that.”

Harris and his girlfriend sent pictures, videos and claims of horrifying conditions to several state agencies. But state records indicate the photos weren’t showing the state anything they didn’t already know.

A Department of Social Services inspection report from Dec. 14 lists and shows 26 different types of violations at Fillmore Place.

Some violations concern regulatory documentation, which the Social Services inspector noted was lacking on everything from records of staff training and certifications to appropriate admission and intake forms. In some cases, the inspector stated the facility failed to complete certain tasks at all—including ascertaining whether residents are registered sex offenders. And even criminal history for staff wasn’t obtained according to the inspector, who couldn’t find a report for a single staff member whose record was reviewed.

Even pharmacy print-outs for several residents’ medications weren’t signed by a physician or any other prescriber.

And that’s just the first half of the report.

The second half concerns precisely the types of claims Harris made — multiple examples of disrepair, dirty linens, inadequate hygiene product stock and more:

  • “Licensing staff noted a strong urine odor in Room #41.”
  • “Based on a tour of the facility, the facility failed to keep the building free of infestations of insects. Evidence: Active bed bugs were observed by licensing staff in both beds in Room #19. Licensing staff also observed bed bugs crawling on the wall near the bed by the door.”
  • “Large window was boarded up in the hallway with exposed wires on the third floor.”
  • “Based on a tour of the facility, the facility failed to ensure that toilet tissue was accessible to each commode and soap was accessible to each face/hand washing sink.”

By late February, when Harris was working there — he said not much, if anything, had changed. He said toilet paper and soap were still unavailable in every bathroom he serviced and none was available to restock.

“I went to the nurse’s station and said they needed more toilet paper,” Harris said. “I didn’t see no hand soap in there as well. So I questioned it and they were like, ‘Oh we issue an amount of toilet paper and they have body washes in their rooms.’”

And every day, he worried he might be bringing bed bugs home because of how prevalent they were throughout the facility, saying he could see clumps of bed bugs, dead and alive, caked in some of the mattresses and mattress covers.

He claims he requested new mattresses for residents with the most egregious cases and was told the budget wouldn’t allow for replacements. 

In addition to the claims of unsanitary and unsafe conditions noted by DSS licensing staff on the day of their walkthrough, Harris said bathroom floors were routinely slick with urine and water and sometimes covered in fecal matter.

“Just unclean, unsafe for some of the residents,” Harris said. “Being that, some of them can barely walk, some of them have to get out of a wheelchair to stand up to use the bathroom. [Staff] comes in at 6 in the morning and it still looks like this at 8:30 when I get there. Like it’s basically like I’m the only one that’s in there that’s cleaning it up.”

As Harris swept each room, he says he felt he was sweeping away years of neglect. He found rotting food in rooms that also had months of empty cigarette cartons under the beds, behind doors and in corners. He shuddered, recalling the day he found a resident’s clothes soiled with fecal matter.

“I just threw it away because wasn’t no point in washing it. It already had maggots on it and this and that,” he said. “Maggots. That’s how long it was sitting there, how long it was in that closet.”

He said the level of cleaning he had to do during his brief employment at Fillmore is proof of how long the staff had allowed the poor conditions to fester.

“It shouldn’t be this way and it’s basically disrespectful.”

The state of affairs

According to state records, the conditions Harris and the Social Services inspector described were bad enough for Fillmore Place to fail its unannounced renewal inspection on Dec. 14. It’s now operating with a provisional license.

A provisional license means the facility was unable to “substantially comply with laws and regulations” in order to receive a full license renewal. The facility has six months following its failed inspection to see if it can fix its state of affairs. 

State records show Fillmore’s provisional license expires June 11. DSS rules state that if a facility isn’t in compliance by the time its provisional license expires, it can’t continue operating.

Only 11 of the state’s 570 assisted living facilities—fewer than two percent—are currently operating under provisional licenses, on notice to clean up their acts in order to get their full licenses back, according to DSS.

Fillmore Place is one of them.

Assisted Living Facilities
Assisted living facilities operation with a provisional license: (1) Fillmore Place, Petersburg (2) Brighter Living Assisted Living, Hopewell (3) Colonial Manor, Williamsburg (4) Bentley Commons at Lynchburg (5) Nehemiah Assisted Living Facility, Hampton (6) Open Arms Adult Home II LLC, Newport News (7) Banister Residential Care Facility Inc., Halifax (8) Brightview Baldwin Park, Staunton (9) Candis Assisted Living, Roanoke (10) Carriage Hill Retirement, Bedford (11) Commonwealth Senior Living at Radford

We do not know if Fillmore Place has received a provisional license before – those records are unavailable. However, a review of 17 inspection reports since March 2017 shows four annual inspections and ten complaint-related inspections that were found to have violations. And the trend has been towards more violations over time.

Prior to an August 2019 complaint, there were seven complaints filed against Fillmore Place. Four were found by DSS inspectors to be invalid. The problems found during complaints that were found to be valid appeared to be able to be remedied that day.

During earlier annual inspections, the resulting reports were brief. Compare that to the 2021 report, which required several pages and additional supporting documents and photographs.

Since Aug. 14, 2019, every single complaint inspection of Fillmore Place was found to be partially or completely substantiated. Every inspection has unearthed at least some violations.

It’s difficult to know when exactly the problem worsened, though, since Fillmore Place wasn’t inspected in person from its annual license renewal inspection in November 2019 until a complaint inspection on Aug. 24, 2021, because of pandemic restrictions.

That’s something that worries Harris because, given the conditions he saw, he wonders how strong COVID protocols at Fillmore could’ve been before vaccines were widely available.

“We do the best we can”

Under every violation in the inspection report, there’s a line that states the plan of correction. It starts by stating what the “administrator” will do to ensure the violation doesn’t keep happening.

At Fillmore Place, that person is Brenda Seal.

Seal first spoke with 8News the day our crew interviewed Harris. We asked her about the claims regarding the conditions at the facility. After answering some initial questions about her role, she stated the facility is treated by an exterminator every two weeks. Then, claiming she couldn’t divulge any more due to legal action with a different employee, she hung up the phone.

Days later, Seal called back and confirmed that a husband and wife team, Dr. Saifullah Niazi and his wife, Shehla, make the management decisions for Fillmore Place. Shehla Niazi is the license holder for the facility. Seal also said that they didn’t want to speak with 8News at the moment.

We had already made multiple attempts to contact them for this report. Our crew knocked on the door of their home and on the door of Rite Way Inc., which is the company listed on Harris’ paystubs.

Rite Way Inc. is located in the same office suite once used by Dr. Saifullah Niazi, a former psychiatrist whose license was suspended by the Virginia Board of Medicine eight years ago for malpractice. This was the second time his license was suspended.

During our last conversation, Seal had rave reviews for Harris’ work during his time at Fillmore.

“He was doing a great job at cleaning,” Seal said. “ Would have loved to have kept him.”

By comparison, she admitted most of Fillmore’s other housekeepers need more encouragement to do their jobs properly. Although she maintains that in the end, they do, in fact, do their jobs properly.

She said not all bathrooms have toilet paper because some residents have mental health issues that lead to them eating toilet paper, so they’re unable to keep it in all bathrooms. When pressed about whether the state finds that acceptable practice, Seal said it does.

When confronted with the evidence in the December report showing inspectors plainly did not agree with her, at least concerning the bathrooms they observed, Seal pivoted. She said it’s possible that due to resident turnover, they may forget to put the toilet paper back in bathrooms where residents are able to use it.

But she maintains hygiene products are available everywhere they’re practically able to be.

As for the bed bugs, Seal now claimed that the facility was being treated weekly. But when pushed to provide proof, she said she couldn’t do that without checking with the Niazis. She also agreed to forward along our request for a walkthrough of the facility to see if improvements have been made.

We never heard back.

Without that proof or evidence that they’ve improved conditions at Fillmore Place, the only evidence we have is Harris’ word, his pictures and videos from February and March, and what other residents had to say the day 8News met Harris in April.

The Dept. of Social Services says they can’t provide any additional information specific to Fillmore at this time due to an active investigation currently ongoing at the facility. They declined to say whether that’s an investigation related to the violations that earned Fillmore its failed inspection or something else.

What is clear, is that time is running out on Fillmore’s provisional license.

And even if they’re able to fix enough to “substantially” comply with laws and regulations, Harris feels the state needs to keep a closer eye on the facility.

Once-a-year inspections or waiting until residents who don’t always have access to phones or know how to use the Internet manage to file complaints, he says is not enough. If that’s all the state can offer, none of these residents, he says, should be living here.

“I want to say they need to go ahead and just knock this building down,” Harris said. “Just build up another building and start fresh.”