Wednesday, January 18, 2017

All they got was a slap on the hand.’ Is California low-balling penalties in nursing home death investigations?


Armando Reagan was 30 when he bled to death, rushed from a Southern California nursing home as blood soaked his sheets, pooled on the floor and as he pleaded with staff: “Help! Help! I do not want to die!” according to state public health records.

Paralyzed 11 years earlier in a drive-by shooting, Reagan, who was taking blood thinners, died later that day at a nearby hospital, where the emergency room documented profuse bleeding from bedsores in his groin.

Marleen Aparicio, a relative, assumed that the nursing home – Verdugo Valley Skilled Nursing & Wellness Centre in suburban Los Angeles – would receive the maximum punishment from the state: a Type AA citation and $100,000 fine, a penalty reserved by the California Department of Public Health for the most egregious deaths of nursing home residents.

Aparicio was mistaken. Instead, the department issued the facility a milder A citation and $20,000 fine over Reagan’s death in July 2010, concluding that nursing home staff did not adequately monitor the young man for adverse drug reactions.

“To know he was crying out like that,” said Aparicio, 61, a second cousin of Reagan, who had always called her “auntie.” “All they got was a slap on the hand: ‘Don’t do it again.’

“They made a mistake and, oops, that’s it?” she asked. “This is a mistake we know about. What about all the ones we don’t?”

Controversy over how the state penalizes facilities over suspicious patient deaths has been simmering for years, with elder-care advocates pushing for tougher oversight and harsher fines. The nursing home industry, meanwhile, has maintained that inspectors for the Department of Public Health have been uneven in their approaches, depending on which district office is in charge of an investigation.  (Click to Continue)

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All they got was a slap on the hand.’ Is California low-balling penalties in nursing home death investigations?

Nursing home violations

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SPRINGFIELD -- Several area nursing homes were cited for violations that happened over the last few months.

On Friday, the IDPH published a report of some that they say even caused patients to die.

Lincoln Manor in Decatur was fined $50,000 for failing to provide services to a resident with an abdominal wound. They died from septic shock.

Gardenview Manor in Danville was fined a combined $50,000 for two violations: One for failing to report a resident's pain after they broke a leg, and another for failing to supervise a mentally disabled resident who left and was found half a mile away.

Taylorville Care Center,  was fined $25,000 for failure to use a mechanical lift properly, hurting one of their residents.

Health care advocates say there are a few things to know before putting your loved one in a nursing home.

"If they have the time," says Claudia Lennhoff of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, "We really encourage people to go and visit the various different nursing homes. Just go in, you can go in unannounced, and just show up and look around. We always encourage people to do a "sniff test" and make sure that the place is clean and well staffed."

The listed violations happened between October and the end of the year. The Champaign County Health Care Consumers group says by the time nursing home violations are reported, they will hopefully have been resolved.

Original: 4:30 pm, Friday, 1/6/17

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Department of Public Health announced the following type “AA” and “A” violations of the Nursing Home Care Act processed during the fourth quarter of 2016.  An “AA” violation is cited when there is a condition or occurrence at the facility that proximately caused a resident’s death.  An “A” violation pertains to a condition in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious mental or physical harm will result, or has resulted.

The Quarterly Report of Nursing Home Violators can be found on IDPH’s website and contains additional information about the violations.

October

Cumberland Rehab & Health CC, a 54-bed skilled care facility located at 300 North Marietta Street, Greenup, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for delaying physician notification and treatment of a resident suffering chest pain due to a heart attack, resulting in heart damage.  The facility waived its right to a hearing and paid $16,250.

Gardenview Manor, a 213-bed skilled and intermediate care facility located at 14792 Catlin-Tilton Road, Danville, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to report the pain and bruising of a resident who suffered a broken leg.  The facility requested a hearing.

Glen Bridge N & Rehab Centre, a 302-bed skilled care facility located at 8333 West Golf Road, Niles, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to develop and implement a plan to prevent a resident from eloping from the facility, resulting in the resident exiting the facility from a fifth floor window and later dying.  The facility requested a hearing.

Meadows, a 99-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled located at 3250 South Plum Grove Road, Rolling Meadows, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $10,000 for failure to follow a physician ordered diet for a resident, which resulted in the resident choking.  The facility requested a hearing.

Meadows Mennonite Home, a 159-bed skilled, intermediate, and shelter care facility located at 24588 Church Street, Chenoa, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to assess new pressure ulcers and treat.  The facility requested a hearing.

Parkview Home-Freeport, a 73-bed skilled and shelter care facility located at 1234 South Park Boulevard, Freeport, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to implement measures to protect residents at risk from falls.  The facility requested a hearing.

Pleasant View Luther Home, a 90-bed skilled care facility located at 505 College Avenue, Ottawa, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to protect two residents from verbal and physical abuse by staff.  The facility requested a hearing.

Pontiac Healthcare and Rehab, a 97-bed skilled and intermediate care facility located at 300 West Lowell, Pontiac, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to monitor and care for the placement of a catheter in a resident.  The facility requested a hearing.

Rosewood Care Center East Peoria, a 120-bed skilled care facility located at 900 Centennial Drive, East Peoria, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to safely transfer a resident to a wheelchair, which resulted in injuries to the resident.  The facility requested a hearing.

Timbercreek Rehab &Health Care Center, a 202-bed skilled care facility located at 2220 State Street, Pekin, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to prevent and care for a pressure ulcer resulting in a resident’s hospitalization.  The facility waived its right to a hearing and paid $16,250.

November 2016

Jerseyville Nursing and Rehab, a 111-bed skilled care facility located at 1001 South State Street, Jerseyville, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to prevent a fall resulting in the resident suffering a fracture.  The facility waived its right to a hearing and paid $16,250.

Lincoln Manor, a 140-bed skilled care facility located at 2650 North Monroe Street, Decatur, has been cited with an “AA” violation and fined $50,000 for failure to assess, treat, and provide services to a resident with an abdominal wound, resulting in septic shock and death.  The facility requested a hearing.

North Adams Home, a 92-bed skilled care facility located at 2259 East 1100th Street, Mendon, has been cited with an “AA” violation and fined $50,000 for failure to supervise a resident at risk for sliding in bed, resulting in the resident hanging from the bed with a gown around the resident’s throat.  The facility requested a hearing.

Prairie House, a 16-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled located at 1770 Sauk Trail, Sauk Village, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $6,250 for failure to implement written policy and procedures to ensure supervision is provided to residents who are physically aggressive toward others, and to ensure individuals’ rights are not restricted in order to accommodate maladaptive behavior by a single resident.

Rock River Gardens, a 70-bed intermediate care facility located at 3601 Sixteenth Avenue, Sterling, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to assess and seek treatment for a resident experiencing pain resulting in a delay in treatment and an increased need for assistance.

Rose Angela Hall, an 80-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled located at 4200 North Austin, Chicago, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $10,000 for failure to ensure a resident who fell was assessed for pain and injuries, and physical changes were reported to the resident’s physician.

Sharon Health Care Woods, a 152-bed intermediate care facility located at 3223 West Richwoods Boulevard, Peoria, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to complete new employee orientation, check new employee references, and prevent verbal and physical abuse of three residents by staff.  The facility requested a hearing.

Taylorville Care Center, a 98-bed skilled care facility located at 600 South Huston, Taylorville, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to properly use a mechanical lift resulting in injury to a resident.  The facility waived its right to a hearing and paid $16,250.

December 2016

Bellwood Developmental Center, an 82-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled located at 105 Eastern Avenue, Bellwood, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $10,000 for failure to supervise and prevent a resident from ingesting objects, and failure to provide adequate health care resulting in the resident becoming severely malnourished.

Clearbrook West, a 16-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled located at 3980 Fairfax, Rolling Meadows, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $6,250 for failure to follow a resident’s prescribed diet and supervise while eating, resulting in the resident choking.

Countryside Nursing and Rehab Center, a 197-bed skilled and intermediate care facility located at 1635 East 154th Street, Dolton, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to monitor and supervise a resident who wanders, resulting in the resident being physically assaulted.  The facility requested a hearing.

Edwardsville Nursing and Rehab Center, a 120-bed skilled care facility located at 401 St. Mary Drive, Edwardsville, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to appropriately monitor and assess one resident, resulting in hospitalization.   The facility waived its right to a hearing and paid $16,250.

Gardenview Manor, a 213-bed skilled and intermediate care facility located at 14792 Catlin-Tilton Road, Danville, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to supervise a severely cognitively impaired resident who left the facility and was found half a mile away.

Heddington Oaks, a 214-bed skilled care facility located at 2223 West Heading Avenue, Peoria, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to safely reposition a resident who rolled off the bed and sustained injuries.

Manorcare of Palos Heights West, a 130-bed skilled care facility located at 11860 Southwest Highway, Palos Heights, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to apply appropriate interventions for one resident and supervise another resident, both of whom fell.

Parents and Friends of the Specialized Living Center, a 100-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled, located at 1450 Caseyville Avenue, Swansea, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $12,500 for failure to prevent neglect leading to the death of a resident due to respiratory failure.

Park Pointe Healthcare and Rehab, a 142-bed skilled care facility located at 1223 Edgewater Drive, Morris, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to implement individualized supervision plans resulting in two residents falling.

Pontiac Healthcare and Rehab, a 97-bed skilled and intermediate care facility located at 300 West Lowell, Pontiac, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to provide proper catheter care resulting in a resident being hospitalized.  The facility requested a hearing.

Prairie House, a 16-bed intermediate care facility for the developmentally disabled, located at 1770 Sauk Trail, Sauk Village, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $6,250 for failure to provide guidance and procedures to supervise residents who are aggressive in order to prevent resident-on-resident abuse.

Westchester Health and Rehab Center, a 120-bed skilled care facility located at 2901 South Wolf Road, Westchester, has been cited with an “A” violation and fined $25,000 for failure to properly administer medication for one resident, resulting in the resident having a seizure.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing home violations

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

May 18 2015: Expose this guardianship abuse of Genevieve Bush

The State of Pa took a U S citizen out of her home with no due process in violation of Constitutional rights and liberties, they got away with this with the misuse of the laws. In my opinion this guardianship abuse must be exposed and STOPPED.

 Source:
May 18 2015: expose this guardianship abuse of Genevieve Bush

 See Also:
NASGA: Genevieve Bush, PA Victim

Nursing home assistant gets program after stealing from dementia patient

BRISTOL — A former local nursing assistant charged with stealing thousands of dollars from a dementia patient has been granted a first-time offender program that could spare him a criminal record.

Joy Recio, 36, of 83 Colony St., was placed in the program Friday during a hearing in Bristol Superior Court, one in which a prosecutor strongly objected to anything but a guilty plea.

Recio was placed in Accelerated Rehabilitation for two years — during which time he must avoid new arrests, make full restitution, have no contact with the victim and not serve in any position involving health care or fiduciary responsibilities.

If he abides by those conditions for the entire probationary period, charges of third-degree larceny, fraudulent use of an ATM, illegal use of a credit card and second-degree identity theft will be dropped.

According to police, Recio stole $4,500 from a resident at Village Green Nursing Home, at 23 Fair St. Recio was a certified nursing assistant at the home at the time.

The conservator for the victim reported the theft to police in the fall of 2015 after seeing 11 ATM charges between June and October in 2015 that appeared to be fraudulent.

Police used surveillance from the withdrawals to identify Recio as a suspect.

The victim, according to the warrant, was admitted to Village Green in November 2014 after he suffered a stroke. Since then, his cognitive condition has deteriorated and he has developed dementia and another condition that brings on uncontrollable episodes of laughing or crying. The man is also legally blind.

“He took advantage of a man who had a stroke and dementia and who couldn’t do anything,” Ronald Dearstyne, the prosecutor, said during Friday’s hearing.

In objecting to the program, Dearstyne said Recio was asking the court to wipe his slate clean after he betrayed the trust of a helpless patient. He also said the case should have been disposed of through a misdemeanor guilty plea.

Recio’s lawyer, though, said his client was willing to make restitution, and has signed a sworn affidavit promising never to work in a nursing position again.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing home assistant gets program after stealing from dementia patient

Manahawkin Nursing Home Resident Overdosed on Heroin Sold to Her By Another Patient: Cops

MANAHAWKIN, NJ — Stafford police recently charged a nursing home resident with possession and distribution of heroin after he allegedly sold heroin to another resident who overdosed and had to be revived with Narcan.

Police responded to a report of a heroin overdose at 9:25 p.m. on Dec. 30 at the Manahawkin Nursing and Rehab facility at 1211 Route 72 West, police said.

The initial officers on the scene had to administer several doses of Narcan to the victim, and she was later transported to Southern Ocean Medical Center.

Police later learned that the victim was sold fentanyl/heroin from a resident who lives in the facility.

Police later obtained a search warrant in the early morning hours of Dec. 31. The Stafford Township Drug Enforcement Unit found 20 glassine envelopes with suspected heroin/fentanyl in the room belonging to Walter Gibbs, 59, Atlantic City, police said.

Gibbs was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance (heroin) and possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute (heroin), police said.

Gibbs also had several outstanding warrants from Atlantic City, and later turned over to Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department. He is scheduled to appear in Ocean County Court at a later date.

Detective Jacob Conner was the investigating officer.

Full Article & Source:
Manahawkin Nursing Home Resident Overdosed on Heroin Sold to Her By Another Patient: Cops

Monday, January 16, 2017

After 40 years, U.S. court ends supervision of D.C.’s care for mentally disabled citizens

A federal judge Tuesday ended 40 years of court supervision of the District’s care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, concluding what city leaders called the longest-standing U.S. class-action lawsuit of its kind.

U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle’s order ended a legal odyssey for 479 surviving class members and a larger group of thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom over the years experienced abuse, neglect or whitewashed death investigations after they died while wards of the city.

The lawsuit led to an infusion of more than $2.3 billion in federal aid, the return of $1.2 million in class members’ stolen or misappropriated disability payments, and the eventual bureaucratic transformation of a “broken” system into one of the most modern in the country for treating people with mental disabilities, moving from 49th in 2007 to eighth in 2015 in a national ranking by United Cerebral Palsy.

“This is a case that has spanned eight mayoral administrations, three federal judges and countless administrators of District agencies,” said Clarence J. Sundram, a court-appointed special master in the case and an adviser to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D). “It’s a historic accomplishment.”

While advocates remain anxious about the city’s future course, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), her predecessor and now-D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray Jr. (D) were among nearly 100 attorneys, city employees, advocates and six class members present in court to recognize the protracted progress since the District’s 1991 closing of Forest Haven, the notorious asylum then run by the city, in Laurel.

“Although plaintiffs are understandably reluctant to end Court supervision given the long, and sometimes tortuous, history of this litigation, the Court believes that that time has come,” Huvelle said.

As recently as 2007, Huvelle acknowledged ongoing “systemic” and “fundamental” failures of city operations while the federal government and private watchdog groups renewed calls to find District officials in contempt and put the program into receivership.

Huvelle declined to do that but, by 2010, named an independent court administrator to improve District funding, quality control and licensing procedures. Last month, the judge cited “steady and substantial” progress and found the District had “finally achieved compliance” in all areas.

Bowser did not speak in court but afterward pledged that the city this time would keep its promises. “We’ve achieved the milestones that the court set out, but also we continue our commitment to maintain those investments, leadership at the Department [of Disability Services] and improved services for our residents,” Bowser said.

Gray, who led efforts to close Forest Haven and then compiled a mixed record as head of the city’s Department of Human Services starting in 1991, said, “I’m really proud of being part of something this important.” He added: “We still have lots of work to do to create a different way of life in the system.”

The victory was built on a mountain of failures. The lawsuit was brought by six individuals in 1976 and named for lead plaintiff Joy Evans, who was committed at 8 and died in Forest Haven in 1976 at 17.

Plaintiffs in a class that eventually numbered more than 3,000 men, women and children — most of them low-income African Americans without family or other support — documented the human toll of bureaucratic failure, describing a warehouse of physical and psychological neglect and mistreatment, substandard or nonexistent medical care, and lack of oversight that often ended only in the basement morgue.

U.S. District Judge John H. Pratt, who oversaw the case until his death in 1995, ruled in 1978 that conditions violated inhabitants’ constitutional rights to be held “free from harm,” ordering that the city move residents into the “least separate, most integrated and least restrictive settings” possible.

Facing court fines and intervention by the civil rights division of the Justice Department, the city embarked on a costly program to disperse residents into small, privately operated group homes.

As the District slipped into a fiscal crisis in the 1990s, promises of individualized therapy and day programs collapsed into a system of “harm, exploitation and death” that had a “guesswork budget” and no tracking system for expenditures, professional treatment plans or the hundreds of uninvestigated reports of abuse, illness and injury, Sundram said.

A 1999 Washington Post investigation reported 350 incidents of neglect and mistreatment but not a single fine for operators of 150 group homes, in a system paying $100,000 per year for each of 1,100 participants.

As late as 2006, a court monitor found that hundreds of incident reports continued to pile up, while death reports from one vendor were altered nearly half the time, with key facts or recommendations deleted by the District without agreement from the people who wrote the reports.

A turning point came after renewed litigation by the D.C.-based University Legal Services, the Center for Public Representation, a public-interest law firm for people with mental disabilities that is based in Northampton, Mass., and pro bono lawyers from the law firm Holland & Knight.

Co-lead plaintiff’s attorney Cathy E. Costanzo, executive director of the public-representation center, cited Huvelle’s appointment of a compliance administrator, Kathy Sawyer, and focus by the District’s reorganized Department on Disability Services, which Sawyer formerly led.

Still, Sundram and others warned against a return of bureaucratic inertia and low expectations. As with recently successful dieters, Sundram said, “there is a natural tendency after a period of intense effort . . . to relax. Previous bad habits can reemerge and undo achievements that have been accomplished.”

Full Article & Source:
After 40 years, U.S. court ends supervision of D.C.’s care for mentally disabled citizens

Richmond real estate lawyer may be unable to repay clients

In new court documents Richmond real estate lawyer Hong Guo claims she has “insolvency concerns” and that a trust fund shortage from her firm’s accounts affects more clients than she has previously identified.

Previously, it was reported that a number of Chinese investors and B.C. real estate professionals are suing Guo, alleging $2.1 million in losses, after Guo says more than $7.5 million was stolen from her trust account in early 2016. The trust fund shortage affected property transactions and left a number of Chinese investors unable to pay tax bills on Canadian real estate transactions, legal filings say.

But, according to Guo’s latest court filing, “the extent of the trust shortage is still not known with certainty.”

In an affidavit filed in B.C. Supreme Court Dec. 28, Guo says that about 99 clients were affected by the alleged trust fund theft. This figure is much larger than Guo’s statement in a Sept. 12 B.C. Supreme Court examination, in which she told a lawyer for one of her Chinese clients that only 60 clients were affected.

“I cannot state with total certainty that my assets and those of Guo Law Corporation are sufficient to make whole all of the approximately 99 clients affected by the theft of funds,” Guo’s Dec. 28 affidavit says. “The extent of the liability from filed or potential actions is unknown and growing.”

In a recent interview, Guo said that her law firm completes about $700 million in real estate transactions a year, and she owns enough assets to pay back anyone claiming losses against her and her firm in the case.

The B.C. Law Society has taken custodianship of part of Guo’s practice and has imposed trust fund conditions, including that Guo can’t make payments to clients affected by the shortage except through the society’s custodian.

Letters filed in court from the manager of custodianship, Michael Rhodes, show he rejected Guo’s Dec. 16 client repayment plan and pointed to potential breaches of the conditions that Guo is under.

A Nov. 29 letter from Guo’s office to Rhodes discloses that Nai Zhang, a client in China who is owed about $1.69 million and has not apparently filed court actions against Guo in B.C., contacted Guo via WeChat and said that she wanted to be excluded from the Law Society custodianship and to be repaid interest on her principal until the debt was paid off, “and Ms. Guo essentially agreed.”

“From what you say … Ms. Guo has agreed to pay interest to Ms. Zhang in priority to all of the other CIBC (trust fund) clients,” Rhodes replied. “In my opinion, to the extent Ms. Guo has made such payments, she is in breach of the order.”

In a Dec. 21 letter, Rhodes states that Guo doesn’t have the power to sell her assets as proposed in her repayment plan. For example, Rhodes says, Guo says she owns 35 per cent of the shares of a company with interests in “Surrey Development Properties” but “her shares are subject to a beneficial interest of her sister.”

Full Article & Source:
Richmond real estate lawyer may be unable to repay clients

New legislation to fight senior scams

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) - It is a complaint that law enforcement is hearing more often: seniors becoming the victim of scams and fraud.  The criminal actions have also left countless seniors in financial distress with tens of thousands of seniors in New York affected every year.

Friday morning, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was at the Cheektowaga Senior Center to announce new legislation that she is introducing in the 115th Congress that would help deal with the problem.

Called the "Senior Financial Empowerment Act," the proposed legislation would improve the way elder financial abuse is reported among agencies, establish a national hotline on how and where seniors can report fraud, and provide more resources to combat the problem before it happens.

John Flynn, Erie County's newly elected district attorney, said currently in Erie County the most popular scam is people calling pretending to be relatives in crisis needing money.

Flynn encourages seniors to never send cash or share banking information, including social security numbers, over the phone.

More information about preventing senior scams is available on the Better Business Bureau website https://www.bbb.org/wisconsin/programs-services/savvy-senior-scam-center/

Full Article & Source:
New legislation to fight senior scams

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Elderly couple’s eviction from Albion home draws LePage’s ire

Richard and Leonette Sukeforth
Gov. Paul LePage is so angry that an elderly, disabled couple was evicted from their Albion home that he plans to change the law so it never happens again.

The town of Albion foreclosed on the property of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, both 80 years old, in December 2015 because of nonpayment of taxes. The rundown camp at 180 Marden Shore Road on Lovejoy Pond was sold by the town for $6,500 and the new owner evicted the couple last week.

“I’m livid about it and I think we have to have laws to protect our most vulnerable,” LePage said in an interview with the Morning Sentinel.

LePage said he, personally, tried to help the Sukeforths retain their home and asked Pine Tree Legal to get involved, but the nonprofit organization that provides free legal help to low-income Mainers determined the foreclosure was done legally. However, LePage said he thinks it is immoral that a veteran and his sick, bedridden wife, who are at the end of their lives, were kicked out of their home and he is going to fight to ensure the practice is prohibited in the future.

“I’m going to ask for an ombudsman to mediate disputes between communities and taxpayers, not just elderly,” LePage said Friday. “I want to change the foreclosure law as it relates to poverty, and one of the things I want to do is force them (communities) to sell property at market value and any revenues above taxes and revenue and foreclosure fees go back to the original owner.”

That the governor would be emotionally moved by the Sukeforth case and plan legislation in response is not surprising, said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Gov. Paul LePage, angered by the recent home eviction of an elderly Albion couple, has vowed to propose legislation aimed at keeping elderly people in their homes when they face foreclosure.
Gov. Paul LePage, angered by the recent home eviction of an elderly Albion couple, has vowed to propose legislation aimed at keeping elderly people in their homes when they face foreclosure. Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

“The governor has always taken a very personal reaction to personal stories,” Melcher said. “And it certainly fits into the way this governor has acted. Emotionally, it’s a heart-tugging, how-can-this-happen kind of thing.”

LePage said most communities, before taking ownership for nonpayment of taxes, will work with an owner who could get a reverse mortgage, or the community could abate the taxes. He said he wants people to be able to stay in their homes and let taxes accrue and when they die, the property would then go to the community.

“What they did is unbelievable. It’s just not the way it’s done,” he said of the town of Albion.
A lawyer in LePage’s office tried to arrange a meeting with the man who bought the Sukeforth home, but the new owner refused to do so unless it occurred in his own lawyer’s office with his lawyer present.

The Sukeforths now are living in a trailer park in Holden with their daughter, Yvette Ingalls, where a nurse comes every day to tend to Leonette, who is a retired nurse herself. She is diabetic, weak and fragile and was in a hospital bed prescribed by her doctor when the eviction took place, according to the Sukeforth family.

Rachel Sukeforth, their daughter-in-law, who lives across the street with their son, Rick, said she and her husband drove her in-laws to Holden in a snowstorm the night they were evicted.

“That deal was very underhanded,” Richard Sukeforth said in a phone interview from Holden. “I don’t care what anybody says. It weren’t right. They came down and evicted us when my wife was right in a hospital bed. We’re both 80 years old, so they done it and got away with it and they’re happy.”

LePage, who was mayor of Waterville before he became Maine’s governor, said while it is legal to foreclose on properties, “most people don’t throw them out for poverty.”

“As mayor of Waterville, whenever we had an issue of poverty, we never threw people out,” he said.

The Sukeforths had lived in the house, which really is a camp, 33 years before they were evicted.

“He’s living in poverty,” LePage said of Richard Sukeforth. “Now, we’re throwing him out on the street. That’s just awful.”

Meanwhile, the Sukeforth’s brown-and-gray dog, Pee-wee, and black cat, Kitty, are temporarily staying with Rick and Rachel Sukeforth, as the trailer park in Holden does not allow dogs.

Rachel Sukeforth said when she lets the animals out, they go across the road and sit on the steps of what once was Richard and Leonette’s house and whimper.

The animals on Wednesday were wandering around that house in the snow. The dog, a 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier, shivered on the ice-covered dirt road.

MAKING PAYMENT

Even as Maine’s governor is voicing outrage over the Sukeforth eviction, town officials said the process to get to that point was legal and that Richard Sukeforth had many chances to prevent it.

Albion Selectwoman Beverly Bradstreet said he owed about $4,000 in taxes on the property, which was taxed at a little under $800 a year, not including interest and lien fees.

The town gave Richard Sukeforth, a National Guard and Marine veteran, every opportunity to pay and even paid his taxes for two years, in 2011 and 2012, out of a special fund the town maintains to help people in need, according to Bradstreet.

Pee-wee the dog, owned by Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, remains vigilant Wednesday outside their former home on Lovejoy Pond in Albion. The Sukeforths, who are staying in Holden with their daughter, were evicted from their home recently after the town foreclosed on it for nonpayment of taxes and then sold it by auction. Pee-wee is living temporarily with the Sukeforths' son and daughter-in-law across the road from their former home because dogs are not allowed in the trailer park in Holden where they are staying.
Pee-wee the dog, owned by Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, remains
 vigilant Wednesday outside their former home on Lovejoy Pond in Albion.
 The Sukeforths, who are staying in Holden with their daughter, were 
evicted from their home recently after the town foreclosed on it for 
nonpayment of taxes and then sold it by auction. Pee-wee is living 
temporarily with the Sukeforths’ son and daughter-in-law across the road
 from their former home because dogs are not allowed in the trailer park in
 Holden where they are staying. Staff photo by David Leaming

“It’s three years before we foreclose, and we paid his taxes, like two different years to avoid foreclosure; but then he just let it go,” Bradstreet said. “He knew that we were going to do it. He would come in the Town Office, but he did not pay. I don’t know why. He just waited until it was too late. We foreclosed last December, 2015. We gave him six months to still pay it off and he made no effort to pay it off. He didn’t try, and there were other people in town that could use some help, too.”

She said that, had Sukeforth paid his taxes before December 2015, he would have had to pay only one year’s taxes.

But Rachel Sukeforth said the family did not know her father-in-law, who is in an early stage of dementia, did not pay his taxes; in fact, she would ask him if he had gone to the Town Office to pay and he said he had. It was only when the family saw a notice in the newspaper last summer that there was to be an auction on the property that they learned of the foreclosure, she said.

“As soon as we found this out, we called the Town Office,” she said. “My husband and siblings and our neighbor all tried to pay the taxes up to date, and they refused payment. This wasn’t sitting well with any one of us. Every town has the right to refuse payment, but can also accept the payment as well. When we tried to pay selectmen, they said when an auction is posted in the newspaper, they can no longer accept payment, but that wasn’t true.”

LePage said the town at that point could have accepted the payment. “It’s never too late until the deed transfers, and the deed had not transferred,” he said.

Rachel Sukeforth said the family is trying to have her in-laws’ dog designated as a service dog so they can have it at the Holden trailer park. LePage is concerned about the dog, he said.

“If they need a place for the dog to go, I’ll take him,” he said.

He said he is working to help find the Sukeforths a place to live, such as an assisted-living facility.

Richard Sukeforth said he and his wife receive $1,252 a month in Social Security payments. He worked in construction during the summer for many years, operated a snowplow for the Maine Turnpike in winter and later worked for Bath Iron Works until he was injured when he fell off a crane boom in 1982, he said.

He maintained Marden Shore Road for the road association there for 33 years, for no pay, until the association voted in 2015 to pay him $500 a year. He said he misses his home, his dog and his cat and thinks it was wrong for the town to foreclose on his property and sell it.

His daughter, Ingalls, said her parents were told Dec. 29 that if they were not out of the house by midnight, the doors would be locked and a deputy sheriff called. She said they are upset about losing their home.

“They’re beside themselves, as old as they are,” Ingalls said. “Everything they’ve gone through in their whole lives, and they get thrown out like this.”

FORECLOSURE AND EVICTION

LePage learned of the Albion situation when MaryAnn Sawlan-Neiman, who with her husband, Jim, owns a home three properties away from the Sukeforth’s home, contacted the governor’s office for help. Sawlan-Neiman, who lives most of the year in Dracut, Massachusetts, but is also Marden Shore Road Association commissioner, said she did everything she could to help keep the Sukeforths in their home prior to calling LePage’s office.

“It’s just devastating for them,” she said of the couple. “He’s just like a lost man now.”

She said she met the Sukeforths many years ago, as he maintained the private, dirt road for 33 years.
The dead-end road off China Road is six-tenths of a mile long.

“Every day, he would come down, stay a couple of hours, and I’d go to his house. We just became really good friends. Another neighbor told me in July they were going to foreclose for taxes. I went to the town hall and I said, ‘What does he owe? I’ll pay for it right now.'”

She said the town refused payment. She said she told town officials she recognized Sukeforth had dementia because her own mother had had Alzheimer’s disease.

“He is a … vet. There’s just so many reasons this shouldn’t be able to happen,” she said.

After she and Sukeforth met Sept. 7 with LePage, she hoped there would be a positive resolution in the case, but that did not happen.

“I truly believe the governor did everything he could to help,” Sawlan-Neiman said. “He’s actually called me to come testify when the bill is ready. I’m very nervous about doing that because I don’t speak well in front of people, but I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Sawlan-Neiman bid $6,000 for the Sukeforth property in August at the sealed-bid auction. But Jason Marks, an electrician whose father, Winston, owns the property next to Richard and Leonette Sukeforth’s camp, bid $6,500; and as the higher bidder, he was awarded the property.

Jason Marks also owns a home on Marden Shore Road and does electrical work for the town of Albion. Sawlan-Neiman said the relationship between Marks and town officials, who are friendly, raises red flags.

“I can’t help but think that this was a setup so Jason could buy the property,” she said.

Both Marks and Bradstreet said that is not true. Bradstreet said she didn’t even know that Jason Marks was bidding on the Sukeforth property. Marks’ father actually brought the envelope with the sealed bid into the Town Office, she said, so town officials thought he was the one seeking to purchase it, not Jason. And while the town does hire Jason Marks to do electrical work, it is because he is the only local electrician available and lives in the town, according to Bradstreet, who said town officials actually were anticipating that Sawlan-Neiman would submit the higher bid so Sukeforth could keep the property.

“There was absolutely nothing underhanded,” Bradstreet said. “We were hoping she would get it.”

Jason Marks said that after he became owner of the Sukeforth property, he could have evicted the Sukeforths by September; but instead, he allowed the couple to stay in the house if they would pay rent.

“He (Richard Sukeforth) refused to pay any rent, and he actually refused to let me clean up the property because my insurance company was giving me a hard time about that,” Marks said.

GOVERNOR’S INVOLVEMENT

Marks said he got a call from a lawyer in the governor’s office last year asking to meet with him and LePage, but Marks did not want to meet with them unless he could have his own lawyer at such a meeting.

“I felt uncomfortable with the governor’s lawyer included in this when it originally happened because he mentioned he was going to look into future legislation and the well-being of Richard Sukeforth,” Marks said. “I was wanting to meet with the governor at my lawyer’s office because he was going to have his legal counsel there and said they were looking out for the well-being of Richard Sukeforth; but the deputy legal counsel told me the governor probably would refuse, and I never heard back from them.”

But LePage said he did not ask for lawyers to be present — that he wanted to meet with Marks, one-on-one, to ask if he would let the Sukeforths stay in the house for the rest of their lives.

“I never meet with lawyers,” LePage said Friday. “When I ask for a meeting, it’s me, alone. When I go after corruption, I go after corruption head-on. I don’t need any help.”

Marks said he actually tried to find help for the Sukeforths and called Sen. Susan Collins’ office, which was working to find out what could be done to help the couple. He said he spoke with a woman at that office. “She told me that Richard fell through every crack there is, and my comment to her was it’s too bad that he did work his whole life because if he didn’t work, there would have been benefits for him.”

A message left at Collins’ Augusta office was not returned immediately Friday.

LePage said there are programs to help elderly people, but he did not learn about the situation until after the foreclosure and transfer of the property.

Marks said he felt as if he was being made to feel like a bad person for evicting the Sukeforths and felt pressured by the governor.

“It’s not that I bought the property with the intentions of kicking him out and being done with it,” he said. “I tried doing something along the way to help.”

Both Bradstreet and Marks question how a law would work that would prohibit municipalities from foreclosing on and evicting elderly people who do not pay taxes. Bradstreet wonders if it would place a financial burden on towns. Marks said at some point, a town must foreclose.

“It’s too bad it’s an elderly person, but someone not paying their taxes makes it harder for everyone who does,” Marks said. “Everyone else pays their fair share.”

Marks also wondered why LePage is so invested in the Sukeforth case and said he welcomes LePage to come and look at the camp the Sukeforths lived in, to see the conditions inside, and he would talk to the governor about it.

“It’s not a place I’d want my family to live,” Marks said.

Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, both 80 years old, live in Holden with their daughter Yvette Ingalls after having been evicted from their home in Albion for nonpayment of real estate taxes.
Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, both 80 years old, live in Holden with 
their daughter Yvette Ingalls after having been evicted from their home 
in Albion for nonpayment of real estate taxes. Staff photo by David Leaming

It’s not uncommon for governors or legislators to propose bills based on a single case — usually compelling stories involving matters such as child disappearances or deaths, according to Melcher, the UMF political science professor. Those anecdotes, though, are typically widely known and reported in the media before legislation is brought forward, whereas the Albion case has been known recently only to the people involved, town officials and LePage’s office.

Melcher cautioned against legislation based solely on a single incident.

“One case leading to action is not unusual; but for policy, we should wonder if this is a sign of a bigger problem, or are we reacting to just one thing?” Melcher said. “Sometimes when people get emotional, they make decisions they regret later. It’s good to start an examination based on a single case, but you don’t want to make policy on just one case without looking at all the implications.”

LePage, though, said he knows of other cases like the Sukeforths’.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Rick Sukeforth have been packing up his parents’ belongings and moving them out, little by little, and Marks has been good about them allowing them to do that, Rachel said.

She said she hopes LePage’s efforts to get a bill passed are successful.

“It’s so important to be a voice for the elderly,” she said, “because people just tend to throw them aside like they’re nothing because of their age.”

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Elderly couple’s eviction from Albion home draws LePage’s ire