September 26, 2001-State Sues Nursing Home
Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor filed suit Monday against a Sherwood nursing home he says has repeatedly failed to meet demands to improve the care of its residents. Michael Teague, spokesman for Pryor's office, said the complaint against Westlake Living Center is the first the office has filed against a nursing home alleging violations of the Arkansas Abuse of Adults Act. The filing in Pulaski County Circuit Court is indicative of what will come to other nursing homes if they don't fulfill the attorney general's requests, Teague said.
"This particular [case] is what we've been saying since the get-go: If they're not going to adhere to our demands or pay the fines and put in place the remedies that we have suggested, then we're going to court. We're going to sue," Teague said.
Arkansas Code 5-28-106 allows the attorney general to sue long-term care providers alleged to have "abused, neglected, or exploited an endangered or impaired adult" in a facility licensed by the state.
If a judge or jury finds in favor of the attorney general, penalties of up to $10,000 can be assessed for each violation. Legislation passed this year, Act 1621, raises that amount to $50,000 if the violation resulted in a death. The civil penalties are separate from any criminal penalties that may be sought in a separate case, according to the law. The lawsuit against Westlake describes allegations of neglect concerning two patients, identified only as "Resident #1" and "Resident #2." Named as defendants are Westlake's parent company, Sherwood Living Center Partnership, a Baton Rouge, La.-based company, and three other Louisiana companies associated with that business.
Resident #1, who was 85, was admitted to Westlake in September 1998 and was transferred from the facility after about a year. Resident #2, who was 75, was admitted to Westlake in June 2000 and died the next month, five days after being transferred to Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock. The suit, assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Willard Proctor Jr., lists several allegations concerning each resident. Among them are: failure to give the two residents their required medication, failure to treat and prevent bedsores and failure to properly address Resident #2's psychological needs.
The suit, brought by Assistant Attorney General Jack T. Patterson says: "Defendants knew, or should have known, this facility was chronically understaffed, and that because of the poor staffing levels, the nursing staff could not provide even the minimum standard of care to the weak and vulnerable residents of Westlake."
An administrator at Westlake said Tuesday he could not comment on the suit. A Little Rock attorney listed as the agent of service for the Sherwood Living Center Partnership was not available for comment.
Teague said the attorney general's office has been in contact with several nursing homes over the past year, requesting they agree to pay civil penalties and remedy problems investigators have found. The efforts, he said, were offered as a settlement before legal action was taken. So far, the attorney general's office has collected nearly $200,000 from eight nursing homes, Teague said. He said an increase in the number of investigators working for the attorney general's Medicaid Fraud Unit made it possible to focus on the civil penalties.phpect of the law.
The fraud unit is responsible for investigating and litigating allegations of financial fraud by Medicaid recipients and allegations of neglect and abuse by nursing homes that receive Medicaid payments. Teague said the civil penalties provided for in the Abuse of Adults Act are a tool the attorney general's office can use to hold nursing homes accountable when their conduct doesn't rise to the level of criminal negligence or abuse. The attorney general's office can't pursue criminal cases.
Randy Wyatt, executive director of the Arkansas Healthcare Association, said Tuesday that while he is not familiar with the allegations against Westlake, he hopes the poor public image of nursing homes isn't perpetuated by such cases. The Arkansas Healthcare Association is a trade association with 225 member nursing homes in Arkansas. Wyatt said media reports about such cases cause him concern that "it creates a conception that everyone is being mistreated, and that's just not true. "I absolutely believe that you should go to those facilities and see them and talk to those staff members and those doctors and nurses," he said.
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