Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lawsuit against Chicago nursing home claims it failed to protect a woman from sexual assault

From the Associated Press (May 13)

Chicago, Illinois (AP) — The family of a 69-year-old woman has filed a lawsuit against a suburban nursing home for failing to protect her from being sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old mentally ill resident.

Maplewood Care's administrator tried to cover up a rape by calling it consensual sex, aid attorney Pete Flowers, who represents the woman's family and called the case against the Elgin facility the most flagrant example of nursing home negligence he has seen.

It also is an example of how mixing frail senior citizens and younger mentally ill residents in nursing homes can lead to violence if facilities do not monitor potentially dangerous residents, Flowers said.

"The only possible reason that you would be in this situation is a profit motive," he said. "You want more residents in your facility, but you're unwilling to pay for the ecessary elements to protect all the residents."

Ron Nunziato, an executive with Lincolnwood-based S.I.R. Management, which operates the nursing home and seven other Chicago-area facilities, said he had no comment on the lawsuit or the alleged rape in January.

Christopher Shelton was missing at bed check, but "no search was made or alarm sounded to alert residents and staff that a young, aggressive, sexually frustrated, convicted felon was prowling the halls of the nursing home," the lawsuit alleges.

Later, a night shift nurse heard an elderly woman moaning and entered her room, a state investigation found. The nurse found the alleged victim crying and Shelton in her bathroom, where he was calling 911 to report that someone was attacking the woman.

Paramedics and an emergency room doctor later examined the woman and noted signs of sexual trauma, according to the state investigator's report.

Shelton had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with aggression when he was admitted to the nursing home in November. The state report showed he had told the nursing home staff in December that he was sexually frustrated, but the facility failed to monitor him more closely.

The state and federal governments fined the nursing home $44,400 for violations related to the incident.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of a resident identified only as Jane Doe to protect her privacy, seeks at least $50,000 in damages.

Named as defendants are Maplewood Care, S.I.R. Management and the facility's former administrator, James L. Doyle. A telephone number for Doyle could not be located and it was unclear whether he has an attorney.

According to the lawsuit, Doyle downplayed the encounter as consensual sex in a report to the state and encouraged employees to lie about it to cover it up.

Shelton, who was arrested at the nursing home, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts, including aggravated sexual assault, said Kane County public defender David Kliment. A trial date has not been set.

The civil lawsuit claims the woman's family was not told the nursing home had admitted young adult residents "with a history of violent and aggressive criminal behaviors."

Shelton, a convicted felon and a former resident of the Elgin facility, was readmitted to the nursing home without a proper review of his criminal history, the lawsuit says. Had the facility checked, it would have discovered Shelton had an outstanding arrest warrant on felony battery charges.

U.S. nursing homes have become dumping grounds for young and middle-age people with mental illness, according to an Associated Press analysis earlier this year.

In the analysis, Illinois ranked highest among the states in the number of mentally ill adults under age 65 living in nursing homes — more than 12,000 last year.