Nursing home settles suit with relatives of woman for $800,000

Victim was repeatedly sexually assaulted by other patients, suit says

Years of abuse alleged

Harbour Inn center was shut down last year

January 29, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Relatives of an elderly woman who they say was raped and repeatedly assaulted by other patients in a now-defunct city nursing home have settled a lawsuit against the business for $800,000.

Under the settlement agreement, which was signed Jan. 16, attorneys for Harbour Inn Convalescent Center in South Baltimore agreed to the payment but did not admit to any wrongdoing. Though the company is out of business, two insurance policies that it carried are in effect and will cover the settlement.

Michael Belsky, the attorney for the victim's family, said $650,000 of the settlement was based on the alleged rape by a male patient and an earlier attempted rape allegation. The balance was based on 19 alleged assaults over the four years the woman lived in the facility at 1213 Light St.

Belsky said the victim, now 71 and suffering from multiple ailments, is a resident of another area nursing home.

The attorney said it was apparent from reviewing the thousands of records subpoenaed in the case that the rape was not an isolated incident.

Harbour Inn's owner, Sarkis Nazarian, could not be reached yesterday for comment. The attorney who represented the nursing home in the lawsuit did not respond to calls about the settlement.

Records of the lawsuit that was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court show that when nursing home employees went searching for the then-67-year- old woman about 6 p.m. on March 5, 1999, they found her on the floor in a restricted area of the building.

Another patient, undressed from the waist down, was lying on top of her.

"The patient [victim] was crying," one nursing home aide wrote in a report describing the incident. Asked what he was doing, the male patient said, "Oh we're not doing nothing," the report states.

Carol Benner, head of the state Office of Health Care Quality, said Harbour Inn was shut down last year after state inspections turned up a series of serious state and federal violations. She said all of the 138 patients have since been transferred to other licensed facilities.

A March 19 state inspection report concluded that the conditions in the facility put residents in "immediate jeopardy."

According to the lawsuit, the female patient was transferred to Harbour Inn from another area nursing home Sept. 27, 1996. The assaults began almost immediately, and in one four-month period, the suit alleges, she was assaulted five times by the same male patient.

In early 1999, court records show, a different male patient who had a history of sexually assaulting female patients at the facility was transferred from the building's third floor to the second floor, where the victim was residing. Within weeks, the suit alleges, that same male patient was found attempting to rape the 67-year-old victim.

The woman's attorneys contended that the assaults were the direct result of negligence, including unqualified and inadequate staffing and security. The suit alleges that the family was not informed of the assaults.

The court records also show that Harbour Inn is under investigation by the state Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in the state attorney general's office.

David P. Lunden, director of the state fraud unit, declined to comment yesterday on the status or the scope of that investigation.

In an unrelated nursing home negligence case that was settled this week, the relatives of a woman who died shortly after being released from a Parkville nursing home reached an undisclosed negotiated settlement with the Genesis Health Ventures firm, the owner of the facility.

Andrew G. Slutkin, who represented the family of Elsie Wagner, said the settlement was "substantial." Wagner's case gained national attention when her granddaughter, Gloria Cruz, testified before a congressional committee two years ago.

Cruz told members of the Special Committee on Aging that her grandmother was released from the nursing home despite recent test results showing that she had critically low levels of sodium. Wagner died one week after her release from the Cromwell Center at 8710 Emge Road.

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