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5 nursing home-related companies have banded together to file a lawsuit against Felicia Norwood, Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, alleging that the state quietly slashed Medicaid reimbursement rates, a move that shuns a federal law requiring such decisions be made in a public forum.

The lawsuit also states that due to the reduced reimbursements, facilities may have to limit the number of Medicaid patients it accepts, as well as reduce therapies and services provided to residents whose care is funded by Medicaid. The lawsuits asks for a renegotiation of reimbursement rates, with talks to include participation by nursing homes.

The 5 companies involved in the lawsuit are:

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Brius Healthcare Services, the largest nursing home chain in the state of California, is yet again named as a defendant in a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit. In April, our blog discussed the two pressure-sore related deaths of men who were residents of Brius-owned nursing homes. In November 2016, 64 year old Randy Kruger died from an untreated pressure sore at Eureka Rehabilitation & Wellness Center after 16 months in the facility. According to reports, the pressure ulcer was so wide and so deep that you could put a fist to his backbone. Just 8 months earlier, Ralph Sorenson, a resident of Seaview Rehabilitation & Wellness Center, passed away from from an untreated pressure ulcer. His bed sore developed within one month of being admitted to the facility and records show he was rarely bathed or attended to.

Day-to-day operations of both facilities are managed by Rockport Healthcare Services, who, along with Brius Healthcare Services, was named in a wrongful death lawsuit by the families of Randy Kruger and Ralph Sorenson. Given the utter disregard shown to Mr. Kruger and Mr. Sorenson, perhaps it should not be surprising that both Brius Healthcare Services and Rockport Healthcare Services have been recently named in another lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased resident.

Patient Dies Within a Month of Admittance

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John ‘Jack’ Walsh, Jr. was 63 years old and suffering from Schizophrenia when he was dropped off early to a medical appointment by an ambulance company. Jack was transported by Action Ambulance from Pleasant Valley Nursing Center in Derry, NH, to Parkland Medical Center for a 1:30 appointment and never came home. More than 3 months later, his body was found partially submerged in water on the grounds of someone’s nearby home.

Hours Passed Before Ambulance Company and Nursing Home Contacted Family 

A lawsuit filed by Mr. Walsh’s sisters states that they were with their brother on the afternoon of December 13, 2016, the day he went missing from his doctor’s appointment. During lunch with their brother, the 3 sisters say they received a phone call from the nursing home stating that he had a 1:30 p.m. doctor’s appointment. The sisters took their brother back to Pleasant Valley Nursing Center, where he was picked up by Action Ambulance and taken without a nursing home chaperone to Parkland Medical Center. The suit alleges that the female employee from Action Ambulance left him in the waiting room and told him to call her when his appointment was finished. According to the suit, despite Jack’s history of schizophrenia, he was sent unaccompanied to the appointment, left unattended by Action Ambulance, and wasn’t properly monitored while inside Parkland Medical Center. It was only when Parkland Medical Center went to call Mr. Walsh from the waiting room that they discovered he was missing. Mr. Walsh did not own a mobile phone and his sisters allege that he had never followed this protocol for medical appointments in the past. The lawsuit also states that no one in the family gave permission for him to be taken to the appointment.

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CBS Chicago reports that Bridget Pollard, a 76 year old Rogers Park woman suffering from bipolar disorder and dementia was convinced to send a check for $340,000 to Grace Cathedral, a mega church run by televangelist Reverend Ernest Angley in Akron, Ohio. The church preached that those who gave generously would guarantee their entry to heaven.

Mrs. Pollard’s husband died in 2015 and with no children to look after her, she lived alone and was able to easily remove $340,000 from her late husband’s pension. Mrs. Pollard is reported to have repeatedly refused care by others, but after her insistent niece paid her a visit, she discovered her aunt living without heat, water, or electricity, and amongst old garbage and 44 stray cats. Her niece also discovered her aunt’s emptied bank account and instantly realized she had been taken advantage of by the mega church. After reporting the incident, Mrs. Pollard is now under The Cook County Public Guardian, who has taken the lead on pursing a lawsuit against the church in order to recover all of the $340,000 she was conned into donating.

Although Mrs. Pollard had only been to Grace Cathedral several times, she kept in touch with Corliss Whitney, a singer from the church who became her power of attorney and also attempted to become her legal guardian. According to the Cook County Public Guardian, given the lack of contact between the two, Ms. Whitney took advantage of Bridget Pollard as part of a scheme to take money from the elderly. It is believed that Ms. Whitney had never attempted to look after Mrs. Pollard’s health or well-being, or remove her from the dire situation inside her home.

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In September 2017, Lincoln Manor Healthcare, a nursing home in Decatur, Illinois gave residents and staff 48 hours notice that they would be closing their doors due to the owner’s failure to pay bills to keep the doors open. Although employees of the facility initially told Decatur’s Herald & Review news that all family members and loved ones had been notified, several people report having no idea that their loved one was to be relocated until they received a phone call from another facility preparing to accept them as a resident transfer. 60 residents called Lincoln Manor their home at the time and sadness and fear were felt by many of the residents and their loved ones upon learning that they would suddenly be living somewhere new. So what are your rights as a nursing home resident or a loved one of someone who lives in a nursing home?

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, an organization committed to improving the quality of life for the elderly through advocacy and education, maintains an online database of useful information regarding many issues affecting the livelihood of nursing home residents, including what steps must be followed in the event of a nursing home closure. The topic deserves attention, as the frequency of nursing home closures has been on the rise in recent years.

Some of the federal rules imposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) include 60 days notice to CMS and residents of the intent to close the facility, as well as a plan for relocation. According to federal regulations, relocation plans are more than documentation that a new facility is willing to accept the resident. Instead, they should include comprehensive care plans that cover all aspects of their care, from medicines, to nutrition, to services such as physical and behavorial therapy. Nursing home transfers are notorious for allowing important information regarding resident care to fall through the cracks.

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Every nursing home website, every brochure, every administrator, and every admissions representative says it: “Caring for our residents is our top priority.” As we’ve experienced firsthand through nearly 3 decades of working with our clients, that’s not always the case. According to a January New York Times article entitled Care Suffers as More Nursing Homes Feed Money Into Corporate Webs, nearly 75% of all U.S. nursing homes are benefitting financially from relationships called “related party transactions.” The often unknown truth of the nursing home industry is that ownership can be lucrative and greed has been known to overpower good judgment.

Benefits: Increased Profits, Reduced Liability & Reduced Staff

Related party transactions refer to a complex network of businesses that conduct transactions behind the scenes in nursing homes for goods and services. The owner or owners have a vested interest in related corporations and in essence set up contracts with themselves to provide things such as linens, food, physical therapy, and other goods and services to nursing homes. In fact, this business method is not only legal, but encouraged and taught by attorneys who defend nursing homes. Owners reap large profits by giving contracts to companies they either own, co-own, or have a financial interest in, and pay more for these goods and services than they would if they had sought bids from several competitors.

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News sources are reporting that the owner of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood, FL nursing home who lost at least 12 residents after letting them suffer for days in sweltering heat, had sought court approval to be reimbursed for air conditioning repairs on the building in 2015. According to the lawsuit in 2015, Dr. Jack Michel was taking ownership of the nursing home from someone who was facing foreclosure on the property. Dr. Michel argued that buying a new generator and replacing failing air conditioning chillers was essential to protecting the safety of the nursing home residents and that going without air in the Florida heat would be a “catastrophe” that would force the nursing home  “to be shut down and the patients evacuated.” Although the judge did not agree to reimburse Dr. Michel from the money recovered during the previous owner’s foreclosure proceedings, Dr. Michel went ahead with the purchase of the building and paid to replace the cooling tower.

Greed Over Safety

It was September of this year when Hurricane Irma battered Florida’s southeast coast, including Broward County, the area in which the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is located. The nursing home went without air conditioning for 5 days before 911 calls from staff tipped off authorities and a neighboring hospital that something was terribly wrong. Lawsuits filed by the loved ones of several victims are pending in the wake of the devastation and have revealed that staff had used only fans and portable air conditioning units to cool the facility. The public has also learned that nursing home staff had tried to cover their missteps by falsely charting on patients, even after they had finally been transported to neighborhood hospitals and had died.

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During his campaign, now-President Donald Trump promised business owners that they would be able to operate with minimal government intervention if he were to be elected. Fast forward to today, when his Administration has essentially handed nursing homes a get out of jail free card, allowing them to face little, if any, financial punishment for all-too-common abuse and neglect of senior citizens. According to Kaiser Health News, federal records prove that 4 of every 10 nursing homes have been cited at least once in the past 4 years for neglect or abuse that is considered avoidable.

Trump Administration Proving to be Pro-Business, Anti-Elderly

Since President Trump’s election, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have reversed their stance on an Obama-era ban on arbitration agreements in nursing home contracts. The ban was stalled by the nursing home industry in December 2016 and never went into effect in 2017 as planned. Instead, CMS, now under Trump’s authority, decided to abandon their fight for arbitration agreement bans, essentially giving nursing homes the idea that the Administration supports their use. As the nursing home abuse lawyers of Levin & Perconti have extensively covered in our Illinois Nursing Home Abuse blog, arbitration agreements force the elderly and their loved ones to give up their right to sue and are well-known by legal experts to favor the party attempting to enforce them. Arbitration agreements have been discussed in the news frequently in recent years, not only due to the fight over their use in nursing homes, but also because Wells Fargo attempted to use them to skirt lawsuits after opening false accounts using their customers’ names. As with many nursing homes, credit card companies and cell phone providers, Wells Fargo buried the arbitration clause in a lengthy customer agreement.

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The children of 85 year old Bruce Dove were told their father died after falling from his wheelchair. The father of 5 and widower was an Army Veteran and had served in the Korean War. He was a resident of the United Church of Christ’s Sarah A. Todd Memorial Home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and was lucky enough to have his family frequently visit him. His children were surprised when the nursing home told them their father had fallen from his chair and died. A red flag was raised when the family found out that two nurses involved in his care had been fired. As a result of a lawsuit against the nursing home, the family came to learn that their father had suffered a broken neck as a result of an aggressively pushed wheelchair. In February 2014, Mr. Dove was sitting in his wheelchair just outside the dining room at Sarah A. Todd Memorial Home waiting to join his fellow residents. A nurse asked her co-worker, also a nurse, to push him into the dining room. Instead of following standard protocol and alerting Mr. Dove that he was about to be moved and positioning his feet in the attached footrests, the nurse pushed him forcefully forward without notifying him and without properly securing him. As a result, he flew onto the ground and hit his head, suffering 2 broken vertebrae at the base of his skull.  Instead of immobilizing Mr. Dove, the two nurses turned him over, put him back in his wheelchair, and put him in bed. He died the next day from his injuries.

On Friday, December 8th, a jury ruled against the nursing home and awarded Mr. Dove’s children $250,000 in damages.

From Broken Bones to Brain Trauma to Death, Falls are Always To Be Taken Seriously

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A former nurse at Christian Living Communities and Hearthstone Communities in Woodstock, IL is suing for her job back. The nurse, Juana Walsh, alleges that the nursing home fired her after she acted as a whistleblower by reporting resident abuse to management and the family of the victim. In November 2016, Ms. Walsh went to conduct a routine check on a male resident. The resident was upset and told Ms. Walsh that a male nursing assistant yelled at him and had been physically aggressive while adjusting his pillow. Ms. Walsh reported the incident to her supervisor and the director of human resources for the facility. A social worker was sent to speak with the victim and later reported that he was just confused. Days later, Ms. Walsh gave a written summary of the incident to the victim’s brother. As a result, she was fired and told that she jeopardized the reputation of the facility. She is asking for her job back and for income lost as a result of her termination.

Illinois Whistleblower Act & Illinois Nursing Home Care Act

It is surprising how often we hear stories of nursing home employees being terminated for reporting nursing home abuse and neglect. Legally, nurses, CNAs, and other nursing home employees have protection under the law for reporting abuse to their superiors or to authorities. Firing someone for reporting abuse is referred to as retaliation and is punishable under the Illinois Whistleblower Act and the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. Both laws forbid employers from doing anything that punishes an employee for coming forward with proof or suspicions of abuse or neglect and gives the employee the right to pursue civil action that may include obtaining their former job, backpay, and payment of reasonable attorney’s fees and associated legal costs.