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Worker Says She Reported Abuse

Nov 19, 2002 | Post-Dispatch Nurse's assistant Ann Chambers said she was shocked when she saw one of her favorite patients, Marshall Rhodes.

The elderly man's face was purple with bruises, his lips swollen. It looked like someone had beaten him up on that day in August 1999, she said.

She and a co-worker at the St. Charles nursing home told two supervisors about Rhodes. They told them they suspected that an aide had hit him, and had done it before.

"They told us that we didn't have enough proof, that we had to write down dates, times," Chambers testified Tuesday in St. Charles County Circuit Court. "And that's when I got upset."

She refused to write down the dates, she said, telling the supervisors instead that by reporting to them directly, she did her part.

What's to be decided now is whether the nursing home and its supervisors did their part in reporting the abuse to the state. Chambers testified in the trial against Claywest Nursing Home, its management company American Healthcare Management, and the management company's president, Charles Kaiser. All three are charged with failure to report elderly abuse, a misdemeanor.

In Missouri, any suspected abuse must be reported to the department of aging. The nursing home and company face a maximum fine of $5,000 if found guilty. Kaiser faces a maximum fine of $1,000 and one year in jail.

The two supervisors, then-director Betty Via and then-director of nursing Cheryl Davis, were also charged with not reporting the abuse. Davis was acquitted in a separate trial, and Via's charge will be dropped in exchange for her testimony against the defendants in this week's trial.

Rhodes, 78, died on Aug. 7, 1999, a few days after Chambers reported her suspicions about the assistant, Karl Willard. Willard pleaded no contest to elderly abuse last year and is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Some of the witnesses represent a chain of command that stopped with Kaiser, the prosecution argued. Prosecutor Jim Gregory said Kaiser played down Rhodes' case to a Division of Aging official during a meeting they had about other administrative matters. Gregory said the nursing home was concerned about an upcoming inspection. Kaiser said that Rhodes probably fell out of bed, even though he slept on a mattress on the floor because he was a fall risk.

Defense attorney Deborah Alessi said it was Via, not Kaiser, who played down the situation. Kaiser was just dealing with the facts he knew at the time, she said.

"Remember, hindsight is 20/20, and they are not guilty," she told the jury.

Last year American Healthcare Management sold Claywest and its other nursing homes to another management company. Rhodes' family reached a settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit against the company in October 2000. American Healthcare Management recently settled four other wrongful death lawsuits, including two at Claywest, for a total of more than $845,000.

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