Family Of Quadrangle Abuse Victim Files Civil Suit Against Employees, Operator

HAVERFORD – The family of an elderly dementia patient filed a civil law suit in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas this morning charging that The Quadrangle Continuing Care Retirement Community and its operator, Sunrise Senior Living, Inc. were negligent by not reporting abuse allegations to the state Department of Public Welfare earlier this year.

In March, the family of Lois McCallister, then 78, was suspicious that employees at the Haverford Township retirement community were abusing her and reported their suspicions to management. According to Paul French, McCallister’s son-in-law, Quadrangle officials told him that McCallister’s dementia was worsening and the attacks were just in her head.

French and his wife, Mary, purchased and installed a video camera hidden inside a clock radio in McCallister’s room in the Reminiscence Living unit of The Quadrangle, which is reserved for patients suffering from severe dementia. After the motion-activated camera had been installed for about five days, the Frenchs retrieved it and viewed the recordings. Portions of the film show three employees, identified as Samirah Traynham, Tyrina Griffin and Ayesha Muhammad, taunting and striking McCallister in the head, at times while she was topless. McCallister could be seen several times trying to leave the room, but she was prevented from doing so by the workers.

“This complaint lays out in exacting detail that Sunrise Living violated virtually every law that was enacted to protect our most vulnerable elderly citizens,” attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, of Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, PC, said during a Wednesday morning news conference at the Frenchs’ Haverford home. “Under state law, Sunrise had to immediately report [the Frenchs’ allegations] to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. They didn’t, and because they didn’t that abuse continued again and again,” he said.

The suit also names the three employees accused of the abuse who are currently awaiting trial on charges of simple and aggravated assault, neglect of a care-dependent person, false imprisonment, harassment and several conspiracy charges.

Mongeluzzi and his clients hope to not only right the wrongs committed against McCallister, but to help prevent similar incidents in the future.

“We want to shed light into the darkest corners of the nursing home industry,” Mongeluzzi said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again anywhere.”

The victim’s daughter echoed the sentiment.

“We want to continue to stand up for my mother,” Mary French said. “We just want to see it through.”

“Hopefully it will stop abuse at other facilities,” Paul French said. He described letters and phone calls his family has received from as far away as Colorado since McCallister’s abuse was uncovered in April, saying that people wanted to thank them for bringing the issue to light and unknowingly increasing the level of care at nursing homes throughout the country.

McCallister lived at The Quadrangle for about three years and was moved to the Reminiscence Life unit in January of this year after her dementia worsened. McCallister and the Frenchs decided on The Quadrangle when searching for a retirement home because it was close to home and boasted an active community lifestyle. They paid an up-front lump-sum of $110,000 to move in, and thereafter paid $3,500 per month for McCallister to live in an apartment-style independent living unit. When she was moved to the assisted living unit, the monthly fee went up to around $8,000. Paul French said the sales pitch they were given wasn’t what he saw once McCallister moved in.

“They told us that my mother-in-law would get lots of attention and care and the residents would be active and play games and things,” he said. “I never saw any kind of caring taking place.”

Mary French says she had other complaints before the abuse was discovered.

“I had to call a few times about various things,” she said.

It wasn’t a case of a family warehousing their elderly relative, said Mongeluzzi, but rather a family coming to a decision together regarding the welfare of their mother.

“At that point, my mother was a big part of the decision to live there,” Mary French said. “She had the final say.”

According to documents attached to the complaint, Sunrise Living’s other properties had problems with regulatory violations and had its license to operate its Newtown Square facility revoked. The complaint specifies that the license was not renewed in December 2009 due to “numerous violations of law related to resident mistreatment.” Sunrise and the DPW entered into a settlement that allowed the facility to continue operating, but which required remedial efforts to be taken. Included in the settlement agreement, dated April 2, 2010, were provisions regarding “an ongoing program of culture change” that would “focus on a ‘resident-first’ approach to each job function.”

Subsequent to the allegations of abuse from the Frenchs, DPW conducted licensing compliance inspections at The Quadrangle and on April 29, 2011, revoked its license to operate. The report submitted by DPW cited a “pattern of interconnected negligent acts committed by multiple levels of management” that demonstrate “gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct.” The letter from DPW further charges that The Quadrangle violated law by not reporting allegations of abuse, did not effect the “culture change” required by the April 2010 settlement agreement and also actively obstructed the investigation in McCallister’s abuse claims.

To continue operating, Sunrise Living entered into another settlement agreement and was required to make changes to oversight and employee management, instituting mandatory performance evaluations for all dementia unit patients and create new hiring policies.

Since the abuse was discovered, McCallister has been living at the Frenchs’ home, where they built an addition onto the first floor to accommodate her needs. McCallister is still dealing with the stress of the abuse.

“She’s doing alright,” Mary French said. “She’s still fearful at times, like when we get her dressed.” She believes most of the abuse occurred when employees were supposed to be helping McCallister change clothes. “We’ve thought about bringing someone in to help, but we’re not sure that we could trust anyone to come in. Not yet.”

While the Frenchs are seeking monetary damages, they aren’t looking for a payday.

“We want to examine the corporate culture [of Sunrise Living],” Mongeluzzi said. “This complaint wasn’t filed so that we could make a quick settlement out of court.”

Mary French and her husband just want those responsible for the torment her mother endured to be held responsible.

“They want the facility to face the consequences of the actions of its employees,” Mongeluzzi said. “But they also know there are many residents who would be uprooted. They want the company itself to be held accountable but don’t want the residents there to suffer even more.”

“The goal is to make people aware that these things happen and you have to look out for your loved one that’s in a facility,” Mary French said. “Also just for my mother’s sake because she was at a diminished capacity and couldn’t fend for herself so we’re trying to see that through for herÂ… They have to be accountable.”

Mongeluzzi said that now that the complaint has been filed, the defendants have 45 days to respond, then the case moves to the written discovery phase where the plaintiffs will request many documents from Sunrise Living and The Quadrangle, especially employee manuals and operation guidelines. The most important part, according to Mongeluzzi, will be depositions where he will seek to put Sunrise Living officials under oath.

“Question No. 1 will be ‘Explain to us why you broke the law?’ And they did break the law because they never reported it,” he said.

Sunrise Living officials could not be reached Wednesday afternoon to comment.

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