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Nursing Home Faces Another Investigation

Oct 31, 2002 | AP

Police are investigating whether a worker sexually assaulted a 75-year-old woman with dementia at a nursing home that has also faced federal and state investigations into alleged Medicaid fraud and the deaths of two patients in the past year.

Authorities are looking into a report that a supervisor walked into a room at the Ronald Reagan Atrium I Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Oct. 10 and found an employee sitting in a chair before the elderly woman, who wasn't wearing underwear and had her gown pulled above her chest.

The worker, whom police didn't identify, told his supervisor and police he was sitting in the woman's room because he wasn't feeling well, said state police Sgt. Bob Downey.

He also told police he did not touch the woman and that she had pulled up her gown. The woman told police she wasn't harmed, but authorities were concerned with her statement because of her mental condition, Downey said.

"Normally, we would take her word for gospel but we can't because of her condition. With her dementia we don't know," Downey said.

Downey said police were conducting tests on the woman's clothes and bedding. The worker, who was not identified, has been suspended but not charged.

Monica Neasi, an assistant administrator at the suburban Pittsburgh nursing home, said an investigation by nursing home officials found no abuse, but officials would await the outcome of the police investigation.

Neasi said the nursing home also reported the incident to the state departments of aging and health. Officials with both agencies confirmed the report but declined to discuss details, citing patient confidentiality.

The incident is the latest in a series of problems at the nursing home, owned by Alzheimer's Disease Alliance of Western Pennsylvania Inc.

On Oct. 26, 2001, an 88-year-old woman died after being locked outside in 40-degree weather. Mabel Taylor, an Alzheimer's patient, walked through a door that had been propped open so nursing home workers could smoke outside, according to a report by the Allegheny County coroner.

An autopsy showed Taylor died of heart disease aggravated by cold temperatures. Workers who found Taylor's body outside carried her to her room and told family members she had died in her sleep, the report said.

The coroner has recommended charges against an administrator and a nursing supervisor of neglecting to care for a dependent person, perjury and conspiring to obstruct justice.

Allegheny County prosecutors have yet to file charges, and federal prosecutors have said they might file their own charges, depending on whether the home received federal money.

The U.S. Attorney General's office has also subpoenaed financial records for a probe into fraud allegations. In court documents, federal prosecutors said Atrium appeared to be double-billing government insurance agencies for services and supplies and diverting money to boost employee salaries.

Atrium attorney Lawrence Zurawsky has called the subpoena a "fishing expedition" and said state agencies found no evidence of fraud. Zurawsky declined to comment to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the nursing home was cleared in the Sept. 11 death of a 90-year-old woman.

Helen Fisher's relatives said they found her gasping for breath and unconscious at the home on Sept. 6 and took her to a hospital, where they claimed a doctor said she was severely dehydrated. Fisher, who had dementia and had suffered strokes, was fed and given water through a tube.

The coroner ruled Fisher died of natural causes from acute bronchopneumonia.

Aside from the investigations, the state Department of Health fined the home $24,300 and received at least 10 complaints in the past year, ranging from dirty rooms to medication errors.

The nursing home operated with a provisional license and under close scrutiny by state health officials until Sept. 30, when the state determined the home had fixed problems, Health Department spokesman Richard McGarvey said.

"We have been working with this particular facility and our goal is to get them back into compliance," McGarvey said. "It would be a very traumatic experience to close down this home and move these people."


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