MINNEAPOLIS — Four of the alleged victims in the elder abuse case at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea and their families have sued the operator of the nursing home and four of the former certified nursing assistants.
The civil lawsuit, filed this week in Freeborn County District Court, comes on the heels of criminal trials slated for this summer.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, lawyers with two Minneapolis law firms said the four plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit are alive and are acting in the case via power of attorney granted to relatives. The power-of-attorney relatives filing the suit are Kathy Iverson, LeeAnn Hojberg, Paul Knutson and Morris Blom. The Tribune has withheld the names of the alleged victims.
Former nursing assistants Brianna Broitzman, Ashton Larson, Alicia Heilmann and Kaylee Nash are defendants in the case, along with the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, which runs 230 nursing homes around the country including the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, where the acts of physical, sexual and emotional abuse on residents with dementia are alleged to have occurred.
Broitzman attended North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City from August to September 2008.
The four former nursing assistants in the civil suit were teenagers, two of which face juvenile criminal charges and two of which face adult criminal charges. All are now adults. Two others not cited in the civil suit went through juvenile criminal court.
Mark Kosieradzki, one of the lawyers for the alleged victims, said the families have a lot of questions that remain unanswered and hope the lawsuit provides answers.
The main questions the victims’ families want answered are the following: How could the alleged abuse gone on four, five or even six months? And why was no one at the facility monitoring these aides?
Jim Carey, the other lawyer in the case, from the Sieben, Grose, Von Holtum & Carey law firm, said this situation was not just the case of one employee who on one or two occasions engaged in this type of behavior. Instead, he alleged, the nurses aides were going into rooms and locking the doors. There was screaming from the residents, laughing from the aides and video recording as well.
The two lawyers said the victims’ families hope the lawsuit will raise awareness that this type of nursing home abuse does happen and that hopefully the system will change.
A spokesman for the Good Samaritan Society said the company hasn’t done anything improper and followed correct procedures once the allegations came out.
The lawsuit accuses the nursing assistants of striking, pinching and poking residents’ breasts, inserting fingers in residents’ mouths until they screamed, rubbing residents’ crotches, inserting a finger into a resident’s rectum, exposing their bare buttocks, sitting with their bare buttocks on the lap of a senior resident, spitting on a resident, squirting water at a resident and simulating sexual activity with a resident.
“The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society’s systemic failure to exercise proper supervision and control over the conduct of its teenage employees resulted in the six-month pattern of abuse of the vulnerable adults at Good Samaritan Society-Albert Lea,” the lawsuit states.
It accuses the nursing aides of the following:
• Civil assault and battery;
• Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
• Failure to report the maltreatment of vulnerable adults;
The lawsuit alleges the conduct “was so extreme and outrageous that it passed the boundaries of decency and is utterly intolerable to the civilized community” and “was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.”
The aides had knowledge of the maltreatment and had the duty to report that information to the facility, but they did not properly do so, the lawsuit continues.
“As a result of the failure (of the aides) to report the maltreatment of vulnerable adults at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, including plaintiffs, such wrongful acts and maltreatment were allowed to continue.”
The lawsuit lists six claims against the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society:
• Direct liability for negligent management;
• Direct liability for negligent supervision;
• Direct liability for negligent retention;
• Vicarious liability;
• Strict liability;
It states the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society owed a duty to each resident to use reasonable care for their protection and well-being, and to fulfill the following responsibilities:
• Duty to not abuse or neglect residents;
• Duty to provide the care and services necessary for a resident to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being;
• Duty to ensure that direct care staff were competent to care for residents’ needs and to perform their assigned duties;
• Duty to hire, retain and supervise its employees in a manner that risked the maltreatment to vulnerable adults residing at the nursing home;
• Duty to report maltreatment of vulnerable adults.
The lawsuit claims the nursing home “breached the duties it owed to plaintiffs” and breached federal and Minnesota nursing home regulations.
“The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society negligently failed to supervise resident services, failed to enforce resident care guidelines and failed to ensure that Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea’s professional and nonprofessional staff exercised reasonable care to protect plaintiffs from harm that was reasonably foreseeable,” the lawsuit states.
The facility “had an absolute duty to protect plaintiffs, to provide them a safe environment, to provide safe services and to report suspected maltreatment,” the document continues.
At the end of each claim it said the plaintiffs “have experienced injuries to mind and body, causing them each to experience pain and suffering.” The suit asks $50,000 for each claim for each of the plaintiffs, but the lawyers said that amount is arbitrary. It could be higher, depending on what a jury decides.
The lawyers said more suits are likely on the way from relatives of victims who have passed away since the time the acts reportedly happened between January 2008 and May 2008.
The incidents surfaced in May of 2008 and were made public in August of 2008 after the release of a Minnesota Department of Health report that concluded four teenagers were involved in verbal, sexual and emotional abuse of 15 residents at the nursing home.
Good Samaritan Society spokesman Mark Dickerson told the Tribune Tuesday he heard the lawsuit was filed but has not seen it yet.
He did, however, point out that the state did not cite the nursing home for the incidents and essentially exonerated the facility.
Broitzman and Larson face 21 adult criminal charges in Freeborn County District Court regarding the same allegations.
Carey said the lawsuit did not come about because of dissatisfaction with what has taken place thus far with the criminal side of the case.
He said Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson has done the best job he can with what laws are available to him.