Whistleblower Alleges Wrongful Termination by Cahokia Nursing Home• Belleville News-Democrat
By Jamie Forsythe
A former employee of the Cahokia Nursing and Rehabilitation Center alleges she was wrongfully terminated after notifying state officials of incidents of abuse, neglect and improper care and treatments of residents, according to a lawsuit filed in St. Clair County Court.
The suit was filed by Premissa Acoff of Swansea against the center, located at 2 Annable Court, and its parent company, S.W. Financial Services.
“Cahokia Nursing and Rehab Center denies the allegations set forth and will defend itself against them accordingly,” regional director Robin Suydam with S.W. Financial Services said in a statement.
Acoff, who declined to comment on the suit, is being represented by Mark Schuver with Mathis, Marifian and Richter, LTD., in Belleville.
The center was the subject of an Illinois Department of Public Health and an Illinois State Police investigation into the deaths of two residents earlier this summer. In the wake of the investigation, the administrator and director of nursing resigned.
Suydam said a new administrator and director of nursing are now in place at the facility. They are Cheryl Lindhorst and Leslie Joseph. In light of pending litigation, she said Lindhorst or Joseph were not available for an interview.
Acoff had been employed as a social services director at the facility. Beginning in September 2014, she began reporting what she believed to be incidents of abuse, neglect and improper care of residents of the nursing home to the former administrator, Jan Kalz, Regional Compliance Officer/Nurse Consultant Jeff Davis and Suydam, according to the suit.
The suit claims Acoff was subjected “to retaliation, harassment and a hostile work environment by the defendants.”
Acoff reportedly submitted a written complaint to Suydam and Davis on Nov. 14, 2014, stating that she believed she was being retaliated against by Kalz for reporting what she believed to be incidents of abuse, neglect and improper care of residents at the center, according to the suit.
“To Ms. Acoff’s knowledge, nothing was done to correct this problem,” Schuver said in a written statement. “Perceiving that the Nursing Center was doing little or nothing to address the resident care issues, Ms. Acoff began submitting a series of written reports to the Illinois Department of Public Health concerning what she believed to be incidents of abuse, neglect and improper care and treatment of residents of Cahokia Nursing, including reports of abuse, neglect and improper care and treatment that she believed caused, or contributed to cause, the death of at least two residents of Cahokia Nursing.”
The lawsuit doesn’t name the residents. The News-Democrat reported in June that the Department of Public Health and Illinois State Police were also investigating the deaths of two residents. Family members identified the two Cahokia Nursing and Rehab Center residents who died as John Brown Jr., 76, and Pauline Purifoy, 86.
On May 9 and 18, Acoff submitted signed written reports to the public health department about the treatment of residents and identified herself by name and job title.
“It is our understanding that as a result of Ms. Acoff’s reports, the IDPH conducted an investigation,” Schuver said. “When the Nursing Center discovered that Ms. Acoff was the person submitting these reports to IDPH, they terminated her employment. When they terminated her employment, they attached a copy of a page of one of the signed reports that she had submitted to IDPH.”
Suydam terminated Acoff on May 20, according to the suit.
“Cahokia Nursing’s actions in terminating plaintiff’s employment in retaliation for exercising her rights under the Nursing Home Care Act were willful, wanton, intentional and malicious,” the suit states.
Acoff’s suit claims she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for Acoff exercising her rights under the Adult Protective Services Act and Whistleblower Act.
Acoff seeks all wages, benefits and compensation lost due to the nursing home’s “unlawful conduct” as well as substantial punitive damages. Acoff has suffered “embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress and loss of reputation and standing in the community,” the suit states.
Representatives of the state health department were at Cahokia Nursing and Rehab Center on July 7, and no deficiencies were cited, according to IDPH spokeswoman Divya Mohan Little.
In response to violations found during a May 6 visit by IDPH to the facility, the center filed a plan of correction with the state on June 4. The plan states all staff will be provided in-service training on abuse policy and procedures.
A status conference on the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 21.