Originally Posted at the St. Louis- Dispatch at:
Ex-nursing home operator, official are convicted in elderly abuse case
By Valerie Schremp
A former St. Charles nursing home operator and its president were found guilty Thursday of failing to report elderly abuse in a case where a 78-year-old Alzheimer's patient later died.
The jury recommended that the president, Charles B. Kaiser III, get the maximum sentence of a $1,000 fine and one year in the county jail. Claywest nursing home and operator American Healthcare Management each face a fine of up to $5,000. The jury did not recommend an amount.
A judge will sentence Kaiser and the company at a later date. Failing to report elderly abuse to state officials is a misdemeanor.
"Corporate greed can cost people's lives," prosecutor Philip Groenweghe told the jury in closing arguments. "That is what happened here."
Groenweghe asked the jury to "do right" by the elderly patient and to send Kaiser, 45, and his corporation a message. After a three-day trial in St. Charles County Circuit Court, the jury arrived at the verdict after deliberating for less than two hours.
Nurse's assistant Ann Chambers testified that she and a co-worker told two supervisors they suspected an aide had beaten Marshall Rhodes in July and August 1999. In the last case, Rhodes was taken to a hospital after nurses found him in his room with a split lip and wearing a torn, blood-stained gown.
Rhodes died on Aug. 7, 1999, less than a week after being hospitalized. Nurse's aide Karl Willard later pleaded no contest to elderly abuse, and is serving 15 years in prison.
After Rhodes died, two nursing home administrators, Betty Via and Cheryl Davis, were also charged with failure to report elderly abuse. Davis was acquitted in November 2000. Via's charge will be dropped in exchange for her testimony in this week's trial.
Kaiser's attorney, Deborah Alessi, argued that it was Via who played down the story to Kaiser because she did not want to be fired. Kaiser shouldn't be held liable for not reporting information he didn't have, she said.
But prosecutors Groenweghe and Jim Gregory presented evidence they called their "smoking gun." It was a copy of an e-mail that Via had sent to Kaiser, saying that a local Division of Aging official told her that the incident should be reported to the state hot line.
Kaiser responded that he had already spoken with a state official and that "this is NOT suspected abuse and neglect" and "this is NOT going to be hotlined."
Via testified she feared losing her job if she called the state hot line herself. She said that nursing home directors were told to report any suspected abuse incidents to administrators before anyone called the hot line.
Kaiser and company officials could not be reached for comment after the verdict.
The nursing home had been cited for several violations and another incident could have been enough to close its doors, the prosecution argued.
Because a misdemeanor is now on its record, the company may no longer qualify for Medicaid. American Healthcare Management, which once operated 12 nursing homes in the state, now operates only one, in Lexington, Mo.
Last year, American Healthcare Management sold Claywest to another management company. Rhodes' family reached a settlement of a wrongful death suit against the company in October 2000. American Healthcare Management recently settled four other wrongful death suits, including two at Claywest, for a total of more than $845,000.
Claywest is now called Blanchette Place Care Center.
Reporter Valerie Schremp: