Former nursing home operator guilty of failing to report abuse

Saturday, November 23, 2002

ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- A former nursing home operator and its president were found guilty Thursday of failing to report elderly abuse in a case where the 78-year-old patient later died.

The jury recommended that Claywest nursing home president Charles B. Kaiser III get the maximum sentence of one year in the county jail and a $1,000 fine. The St. Charles nursing home and Chesterfield-based operator American Healthcare Management each face a fine of up to $5,000. The jury did not recommend an amount.

Failure to report elderly abuse to state officials is a misdemeanor.

Nurse's aide Karl Willard previously pleaded no contest to elderly abuse, and is serving 15 years in prison.

Prosecutor Philip Groenweghe asked the jury to send Kaiser, 45, and his corporation a message.

"Corporate greed can cost people's lives," Groenweghe said in closing arguments. "That is what happened here."

The jury deliberated for two hours after the three-day trial in St. Charles County Circuit Court.

Nurse's assistant Ann Chambers testified that she and a co-worker told two supervisors they suspected an aide had beaten Alzheimer's patient Marshall Rhodes in July and August 1999. In the second incident Rhodes was taken to a hospital after nurses found him in his room with a split lip and wearing a torn, bloodstained gown.

Family reached settlement

Rhodes died less than a week after being hospitalized. His family reached a settlement in a wrongful death suit against American Healthcare Management in October 2000.

After Rhodes's death, two nursing home administrators were also charged with failure to report elderly abuse. Cheryl Davis was acquitted in November 2000. The charge against Betty Via will be dropped in exchange for her testimony in this week's trial.

Kaiser's attorney, Deborah Alessi, argued that it was Via who played down the story to Kaiser because she did not want to be fired. Alessi said Kaiser should not be held liable for not reporting information he didn't have.

But prosecutors presented evidence they called their "smoking gun" -- a copy of an e-mail Via sent Kaiser, saying that a local Division of Aging official told her the incident should be reported to the state hot line.

Kaiser responded that he had already spoken with a state official and that "this is NOT suspected abuse and neglect."

Via testified she feared losing her job if she called the hot line herself.

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