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Multiple wrongful death claims made under previous owner; recent inspections show continued violations

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Meadow Park Health and Specialty Care, a care facility in St. Helens, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and state investigations in recent years. A St. Helens medical care center has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in wrongful death settlements in recent years.

Meadow Park Health and Specialty Care has been the subject of numerous claims of inadequate care for vulnerable adults. It offers long- and short-term care for seniors, people with disabilities, and people recovering from illness or injury.

Earlier this year, Meadow Park's former owners paid out a settlement to the family of a 56-year-old man who died in the facility more than two years ago.

Greg Alton entered Meadow Park in fall 2017 after a car accident, dependent on a tracheostomy tube inserted into his windpipe to aid breathing.

Alton's sister Lori Coulson visited him on Dec. 23, as she did most days. He filled out Christmas cards, excited to spend the next day out of the facility, with family.

But on Christmas Eve, before Coulson was able to pick up Alton to spend the holiday with his family, she received a call from the facility.

The tracheostomy tube had come out, and Alton was on his way to the hospital, facility staff told Coulson. COURTESY OF LORI COULSON - Greg Alton sits up in bed at Meadow Park in fall 2017.

Just after Christmas, on Dec. 26, 2017, Alton was taken off life support.

The wrongful death claim filed by Alton's family alleged that after Alton's tracheostomy tube came dislodged, a Meadow Park employee immediately notified a nurse. Instead of quickly attending to Alton, the lawsuit alleged, the nurse took a smoke break and said she would check on Alton after her break.

Unable to get enough oxygen into his lungs, Alton eventually suffered cardiac arrest and lost an active pulse. Paramedics responded and brought Alton's pulse back, but he never regained consciousness.

A Medicare inspection report describes the incident leading up to Alton's death. A nurse told Alton she could clean his tracheostomy before or after her break, and Alton said after would be fine. The nurse said she went to the front desk and was approached by a nursing assistant but couldn't understand her. The nursing assistant used her hands to explain the resident's tracheostomy care.

That nursing assistant told Medicare investigators that she asked the nurse for help, but the nurse refused and said she would come after her break, despite the nursing assistant saying the resident needed immediate help. The inspection report said that the nurse claimed the nursing assistant "said nothing and walked away" when asked what care was needed, so the nurse took her break.

Family members had harbored concerns about the quality of care at Meadow Park since Alton arrived, Coulson said. After Christmas, they planned to find a new facility for Alton.

Coulson said Alton once called her and asked for the phone number at the front desk, because no staff had responded after he pushed the button for assistance. Another time, Coulson said, she was walking down the hall to get ice cream for Alton when she saw a man who had fallen and was screaming. Coulson said she ran to tell a nurse that the man needed help, but "there was no sense of urgency" in that staff member's response.

As an adult, Alton had "lost himself with alcohol," Coulson said. But in the years before his illness, accident and death, he had started to piece his life back together.

"He just had a good heart," she said.

On Jan. 1, 2018, days after Alton's death, Meadow Park changed ownership. Fortis Management Holdings owned a number of residential care centers around the country before declaring bankruptcy. Meadow Park was sold to CornerStone Health Services, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Reached for comment, Meadow Park's current director, Richard Anyan, said he would have to ask his corporate team for permission before speaking to the Spotlight. He did not respond to subsequent requests for an interview.

During bankruptcy proceedings, there were 21 claims against Fortis, including at least 14 wrongful death claims, according to an affidavit filed by the attorney representing Alton's family after attending a 2019 settlement conference in Wisconsin.

All 21 claims had to share a pot of $3 million available in insurance funds, attorney Megan Johnson wrote.

Meadow Park "is making a lot of money on these people in there, and they're not getting the care they need," Coulson remarked.

Coulson declined to discuss the terms of the settlement the family reached with Fortis, saying the legal agreement prohibits her from doing so.

Another wrongful death claim against Meadow Park was filed after a man died in March 2017 after suffering a stroke at Meadow Park. That lawsuit claimed that facility staff waited hours to contact a doctor after the man had suffered a stroke, despite the man being noticeably impaired, with the left side of his face drooping, his speech slurred, and his demeanor being "abruptly disoriented and confused."

Despite new ownership, troubles at the facility have continued.

There were five state inspections conducted in 2018, all of which found at least one deficiency.

In May 2018, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) fined Meadow Park $69,335 for numerous serious infractions.

Medicare's nursing home comparison website shows a below-average rating for Meadow Park's overall performance. The health inspection rating is just one out of five stars.

The center's last full health inspection was in November 2018. That inspection identified 30 health citations. The average number of citations is 13.7 in Oregon and 8.3 nationally.

Nursing homes certified by Medicare and Medicaid, such as Meadow Park, are supposed to be inspected each year. Representatives for CMS did not respond to questions about why there was no 2019 or 2020 report, or what would cause a facility to lose its certification.

CMS did conduct complaint investigations in 2019, which are narrower in scope than health inspections.

One inspection completed by the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2018 described a frail patient who died after falling from her bed and hitting her head. State inspectors found that the facility hadn't taken necessary safety measures to protect the patient. A "fall risk assessment" dated the day the patient entered the facility had never been completed. The patient was found on the floor, unresponsive, after a Meadow Park employee entered the room to attend to a different patient, who had turned on the call light for their own needs.

Meadow Park had 12 licensing violations and seven abuse violations, primarily for neglect, recorded by DHS in 2019. Those included incorrectly administering medication, failing to protect residents from inappropriate sexual contact or financial exploitation, and inadequate staffing.

However, there have been no violations found by DHS since 2019, and recent near-weekly COVID-19-related inspections have not found any deficiencies.


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