The family of a former 87-year-old resident of Brandon Woods at Alvamar claims in a lawsuit filed last week that she was sexually assaulted October 2010 in her room and that the Lawrence retirement center’s staff members acted to conceal it from authorities, her family and medical personnel.
“The real concern here is that when things like this happen, the only way we prevent them from happening in the future is to react appropriately when they happen,” said Lawrence attorney Bill Skepnek, who is representing the family of Jean S. Allen.
Jeffrey Merritt, executive director for Brandon Woods at Alvamar, 1501 Inverness Drive, denied the suit’s claims in a statement Thursday and said the company would challenge the allegations in court.
“Because Brandon Woods at Alvamar is steadfastly committed to providing quality retirement living and elder care to the seniors of Lawrence and Douglas County, we are confident that the judicial process will show that all of our residents, including the resident mentioned in the lawsuit, were at all times given state-of-the-art care that protected their health and safety,” he said.
No one has been arrested or charged criminally, but in a 32-page civil petition filed in Douglas County District Court, Skepnek alleges that Allen, who was in hospice care because she was nearly completely immobile, was sexually assaulted on Oct. 20, 2010, by a Brandon Woods nursing aide. The suit does not name the alleged assailant. Earlier, Allen had been in a unit for Alzheimer’s or dementia patients.
Merritt; administrator Sharon Bingham; Sharon MulQueen, the head of nursing at the time; and social worker Pat Howell are named as defendants, along with Massachusetts-based Five Star Quality Care Inc., which purchased Brandon Woods in 2009.
The lawsuit also alleges:
• MulQueen received a phone message on Oct. 21, 2010, from a family member of Allen’s roommate that led MulQueen to suspect Allen “had been sexually abused.” A social worker later interviewed the roommate, and the plaintiffs believe the interview revealed Allen was sexually abused one day earlier.
• MulQueen went home that evening “without taking any steps to suspend the nursing aide, or to protect Jean Allen or other Brandon Woods residents from further sexual abuse that evening” and did not suspend the male nursing aide until the next day, Oct. 22, 2010.
• Also the next day MulQueen ordered Allen be sent to Lawrence Memorial Hospital for an examination, but she told staff members to say it was for a Medicare examination and not for a suspected sexual assault. The plaintiffs claim staff members misled Allen’s personal physician and that they also waited to take her to LMH until after her husband, Roger Allen, visited her that morning. He was also not told about the sexual assault allegation.
• At the hospital, Brandon Woods staff resisted a request by LMH staff to report the incident to police, saying Brandon Woods was “handling the matter internally.” After LMH staff insisted, Lawrence police were notified and began investigating the report.
• Roger Allen received an anonymous phone call that afternoon that his wife was being taken to LMH, and he and his son later returned to Brandon Woods and talked with Howell, who told them she was being taken there for a Medicare examination. Later, a Lawrence police officer at LMH told Roger Allen about the sexual assault allegation.
• Skepnek says Brandon Woods employees also told LMH nurses that Allen had not been bathed since the day of the alleged assault but that Brandon Woods records show she was bathed after the alleged assault.
“The LMH sexual abuse examination did not discover genetic material that could help determine the method of the sexual abuse, or the identity of the person who had committed the crime,” Skepnek wrote and added that LMH physicians and nurses found lacerations and abrasions that they reported had left “no doubt” Allen had been sexually abused.
• On Oct. 22, according to records, MulQueen was in phone contact with Brandon Woods leaders, including Merritt and Bingham.
The plaintiffs also said in the suit that they were not notified Allen was hospitalized weeks earlier on Oct. 3 for falling out of her bed and that they believe that was a result of a sexual assault as well.
After she was hospitalized in late October, the family transferred Allen, who was known in the Lawrence arts community and taught art classes at Kansas University and Haskell Indian Nations University when it was a junior college, to a new facility. She died Nov. 26, 2010.
The lawsuit does not identify the nursing aide who was suspended on Oct. 22, although Skepnek said Allen’s roommate did identify someone.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said this week that no one had been charged in connection with the sexual assault investigation that began at LMH.
“It’s not an active criminal investigation,” Branson said.
The plaintiffs’ petition includes a count alleging that the staff’s actions violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act because Allen’s family had spent $150,000 on her care at Brandon Woods, and the attorneys said if they discover additional victims, they intend to broaden it into a class-action lawsuit.
“It’s in there because it’s something we may pursue depending on how the thing develops,” Skepnek said.
Scott Bloch, a former Lawrence attorney who once was a lightning rod for criticism when he headed the federal Office of Special Counsel under the Bush administration, is Skepnek’s co-counsel in the case. Bloch’s Washington, D.C., law firm specializes in class-action lawsuits.
The plaintiffs are seeking relief on eight counts, mostly for $150,000 per count.
MulQueen is no longer employed at Brandon Woods at Alvamar while Bingham and Howell are, according to Merritt, who said MulQueen’s departure was not related to the allegations in the suit.
“We do not believe it is appropriate to respond to individual allegations contained in the lawsuit,” Merritt said in his statement Thursday. “We will defend this lawsuit with strenuous challenges to the allegations as framed by the plaintiffs’ attorney. Our challenges will be presented in court.”
Douglas County Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild has not yet scheduled any hearings in the case.