Owner of assisted-living facility sentenced to house arrest

Pasadena resident, first operator in state to receive a patient-neglect conviction, gets 18 months, probation and must pay restitution to Medicaid


The owner of a former Millersville assisted-living facility has been sentenced to 18 months of house arrest after an investigation into what a state regulator called "one of the worst" cases of patient neglect she had ever seen.

Erlinda Sarabia, 69, of Pasadena pleaded guilty Friday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to felony neglect and Medicaid fraud, making her the first assisted-living home operator in Maryland to be convicted of neglect, prosecutors said.

Millersville Home Care came under scrutiny after Ava Harrison, 84, was taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center with severe bedsores on 40 percent of her body, gangrene in one foot and maggots in the other.

Harrison was hospitalized Oct. 15, 2003, and died two days later.

It "was just a horrendous finding, and probably one of the worst that we've seen," said Wendy Kronmiller, director of the state's Office of Health Care Quality, which oversees about 1,500 licensed assisted-living facilities.

Kronmiller said the state revokes or suspends about 15 licenses a year for violations.

The state began regulating assisted-living facilities in 2001.

The Harrison case prompted an investigation of the facility, which was shut down in October 2003, and Sarabia was indicted on eight counts for three residents in her care.

She pleaded guilty to neglecting Thelma Wooden, 94, who had 10 skin ulcers on her body, seven of them going down to the muscle.

Sarabia received Medicaid funds for caring for Wooden.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Bardos said he was pleased with the sentence.

"It tells owners, who are the people with the money and with control, that they can't turn a blind eye to what is going on in their facilities," Bardos said.

Sarabia hired staffers who had no previous experience in health care, including a woman who had been a secretary in the Philippines for a construction company and a person who had finished a two-year hotel management program, according to a news release sent out by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Calls yesterday to three lawyers who represented Sarabia were not returned.

Sarabia's penalty also includes an 18-month suspended jail sentence, three years' probation, payment of $17,269 in restitution to the Medicaid program and a $25,000 charitable contribution to a health care organization.

In February, Nancy Stone, 59, of Annapolis, who worked as a registered nurse at the facility, also pleaded guilty to neglecting Wooden. She received a two-year suspended sentence and three years' probation, including 200 hours of community service.


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