Illinois nursing home operator accused of deliberate understaffing

Picture taken April 12, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
  • Residents suffered falls, dehydration, inappropriate medication, plaintiffs say
  • Class expected to include more than 1,000 people

(Reuters) - Chicago-based nursing home operator Alden Group Ltd has been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit accusing it of intentionally understaffing its facilities, resulting in dangerous conditions for residents.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court by senior advocacy group AARP and others on behalf of more than 1,000 residents at six Alden facilities. It seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to appoint a monitor to ensure the company complies with the requirements of Illinois's nursing home law.

"For many years Alden has engaged in an ongoing practice of profiting from systematically and knowingly understaffing the Alden Facilities, causing dangerous, distressing, and grossly unsanitary living conditions for thousands of residents," the complaint said.

Alden said in a statement that it "vigorously denies any and all allegations of wrongdoing."

The company operates more than 50 facilities in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, and houses both seniors and younger people with disabilities. Barry Taylor of Equip for Equality, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said at a press conference that four of the 11 named plaintiffs are under 65.

The plaintiffs allege that, from 2018 to 2020, the six Alden facilities at issue in the case provided less than the absolute minimum of nursing hours required by Illinois law, and used "ghost staffing," with falsified work schedules including names of former employees, to hide the practice from regulators.

Alden provided less than half of the hours of nursing services needed for adequate care at five of the six facilities during those years, the plaintiffs said.

As a result, residents have fallen down stairs while in a wheelchair, ingested poisonous chemicals because of a lack of supervision, suffered weight loss and dehydration due to neglect and inappropriately been given anti-psychotic medications, according to the complaint.

Residents were also forced to sign agreements waiving their right to sue in court over injuries, which are prohibited by the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, the plaintiffs said.

They said Alden's pattern of understaffing and neglect violated both that law and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

The proposed class consists only of Medicaid recipients, which Kelly Bagby of AARP, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said was because they were the lowest-income, most vulnerable residents.

The case is Doe v. Alden Group Ltd, Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, No. 2022-CH-09574.

For plaintiffs: Kelly Bagby of AARP Foundation Litigation; Steven Levin of Levin & Perconti; Charlie Wysong of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym; and Barry Taylor of Equip for Equality

For Alden: not available

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.