The operator of four elder care facilities in Rutland must address conditions that led to chronic allegations of abuse and neglect or face $40,000 in fines, according to a settlement announced Wednesday by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.
The office’s Medicaid Fraud and Residential Abuse Unit began investigating Our House Residential Care Homes in December 2020 after reports of neglect, including a case of physical abuse and a death that resulted from injury. Investigators alleged that Our House failed to supervise the administration of medication on repeated occasions, failed to protect residents from abuse, allowed patients to be neglected and failed to ensure that reports of abuse were made in a timely manner.
Three of the company’s four facilities have dementia care units, and several of the allegations concerned staff mistreating residents with dementia.
Under the settlement, Our House is required to implement new training to make sure staff understand the needs and care plan for each patient. Our House must also designate an internal compliance monitor who will make sure staff are properly trained and patients’ needs are met. That person must also put together a plan to comply with regulations and laws.
If Our House fails to meet standards over the next three years, it will have to pay $40,000 in damages and penalties.
“The settlement with Our House requires remedies designed to bring about meaningful and long-lasting change to the quality of its residents’ care,” Attorney General Susanne Young said in a press release Wednesday.
Among the allegations in the settlement agreement are that staff at Our House gave a patient with Alzheimer’s Benadryl to sedate the patient, even though it had not been prescribed for that purpose, and that an employee grabbed a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s by the genitals, hit their arm, and caused them to fall.
The death occurred in January 2021, when an employee allegedly turned a shoulder into a patient who was charging the employee. The patient allegedly fell and lost consciousness, and only hours later was taken to the hospital. The patient was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma and died.
That incident was first reported by Seven Days last year, when the state moved to have a court-appointed receiver take over the facilities. A similar incident at Our House resulting in another resident’s death in 2016 had previously been the subject of a joint investigation by Seven Days and Vermont Public Radio about lax enforcement of state elder care regulations.
According to the state’s investigation that formed the basis for the new settlement agreement, Our House admitted that it only provided new employees with four hours of training when regulations require 12 hours before employees are allowed to take care of patients. It also concluded that Our House failed to report one patient who allegedly assaulted four other patients and an employee.
In the settlement, Our House denies liability.
The owner of Our House, Paula Patorti, referred questions to Mark Stickney, the court-appointed receiver.
“It requires Our House to do nothing that it was not already doing,” Stickney said of the settlement. “We don’t have to do anything under the settlement. It’s already being done, all of it.”
Stickney said that as receiver, he had been serving as an internal monitor. A revised training program has been in place since October, and the care homes have been compliant with survey visits from the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, he said.
“I would put my mother in Our House,” Stickney said.
He called the support of family members of residents during the receivership “striking” and was struck by Patorti’s connection with each resident, which he called “striking” as well.
Stickney said he was unaware that a settlement was forthcoming until he called the Attorney General’s Office in April to find out if the office would support termination of the receivership. Stickney said he was told the office would support the end of the receivership pending signing of the settlement, and that he was not involved in discussing the terms of the settlement.
“As an enforcement unit with both criminal and civil jurisdiction, (the Medicaid Fraud and Residential Abuse Unit) settlement requires Our House to implement reforms and create safeguards to ensure ongoing resident safety,” Lauren Jandl, the attorney general’s chief of staff, wrote in response to questions about the receiver’s role. “The settlement agreement will remain in place after the receivership is terminated. We appreciate the work of the receiver through this time.”
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