Settlement reached in death of severely neglected disabled Utah man‏

Nick Rees Dec. 9, 2009, 1:00pm

SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) - The owners and operators of a Bountiful, Utah, residential care facility have agreed to pay $365,555 to the state after a disabled man in their care died from neglect.

REM, Utah and National Mentor Services,LLC, agreed to the civil settlement with Attorney General Mark Shurtleff after two former employees were convicted on criminal neglect charges.

"This was a very tragic case for which there is no adequate remedy at law to compensate for what happened to this severely disabled m an," Shurtleff said. "The prosecution of those responsible and this civil settlement will send a message that failing to provide care to our most vulnerable citizens will not be tolerated."

The settlement comes after a disabled resident at the supervised facility was taken to the Lakeview Hospital emergency room in April 2007 after reports that he had passed out in his home.

The victim, according to hospital staff, was emaciated, weighing only 110 pounds while standing 6'2" tall. The victim also had multiple pressure sores that form when a person is unable to move enough to allow circulation to the skin. One month after surgery to correct a medical problem, the victim died, with a doctor citing the victim's malnutrition as the reason for his inability to recover from the surgery.

An investigation into the victim's death by the Utah Medicaid Fraud Unit revealed that the victim was mobile, fairly active and weighed more than 200 pounds one year prior to his death. Criminal charges were then filed against three company employees who provided the victim with care and supervision. The employees were funded by Medicaid under a contract with the Utah Division of Services for Peoples with Disabilities.

Jessica Poole, the victim's direct care giver, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and placed on formal probation after she pleaded guilty in October to aggravated neglect of a vulnerable adult, a class A misdemeanor. Melissa Strickland, Poole's supervisor, pleaded no contest to the same charge and was placed on probation. Charges were dismissed against REM Utah Director John Harbert over lack of evidence that he was personally aware of neglect in the Bountiful home.

"Our goal was to hold those accountable for the failure to provide reasonable care to this severely disabled man," Assistant Attorney General Robert Steed said. "I believe the true measure of an advanced society is how well we care for those who are the most vulnerable among us. This case is a tragic example of a failure to provide proper care to a man who was vulnerable and dependent on others for support."

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