A Northwest D.C. senior living facility is facing a $1 million negligence lawsuit for delays in reporting an alleged sexual abuse incident involving a woman with dementia and a construction worker.
An attorney for the woman’s family filed the suit just weeks after a News4 I-Team investigation revealed D.C. health officials fined the Chevy Chase House $10,000 for failure of its staff to promptly report a possible sex abuse case last year.
“I definitely think people dropped the ball,” said attorney Peter Anderson, who represents the woman, listed anonymously as Jane Doe in the civil complaint. “When someone puts their mom or dad in an assisted living facility, there is a trust. In this case, there was a breach of trust.”
Documents obtained from the DC Health Department through a public records request indicate the alleged incident occurred April 6, 2018, when a housekeeper said she entered the resident’s apartment and found the then-66-year-old woman in bed and a construction worker standing at the head of her bed “partially unclothed from the waist down.”
The records also said nearly a week transpired before the Chevy Chase House notified law enforcement and the woman’s family about the incident.
Because of the delays, the construction worker — who has not been named or charged with sexual misconduct — returned to work at the senior living complex before he was removed from the premises, according to the DC Health Department’s annual review of the senior apartment home.
In the lawsuit, the family’s attorney said the woman suffers anxiety, depression, worsening dementia and hallucinations of having a naked man in bed as a result of the incident.
Contacted last month by News4, the woman’s son said the assisted-living center’s handling of the incident “definitely feels like a violation of all the trust we put in them.” News4 is not identifying the man in order to protect his mother’s identity.
A spokesman for the senior living facility said the company does not comment on pending litigation. In a statement last month, the spokesman told the I-Team the facility has retrained its staff, is in compliance DC health regulations and its license remains intact.
Kalmia Construction, a Maryland construction company, is also named in the suit. The civil complaint alleges Kalmia bears responsibility for the construction worker and “could have restricted his access to private areas of the Chevy Chase House.”
An attorney for the construction company told News4 the man allegedly involved in the incident was not a Kalmia employee.
“In fact, the complaint offers nothing more than bald speculation regarding how Kalmia Construction Company could possibly have any liability for the alleged incident. Kalmia Construction Company will vigorously defend the suit,” attorney Tom Murphy said in a written statement.
DC Health’s July 2018 report – part of an annual survey conducted by the District’s Health Regulation and Licensing Administration – does not specify what happened in the woman’s bedroom last April.
But D.C. law requires health care administrators to “immediately” report instances in which they suspect an adult has been exploited or abused.
Documents show, however, a number of reporting delays as multiple Chevy Chase House employees learned of the incident and failed to swiftly contact its own administrator and authorities in order to launch an investigation.
According to the report, the construction worker cursed upon being seen by the housekeeper, who then fled the apartment and closed the door.
On the same day as the incident, the housekeeper notified a receptionist of what she had observed. There’s no indication, however, that either employee checked on the resident again that day.
Two days passed before the receptionist told the facility’s activities director, later explaining to health department investigators that he didn’t immediately report it because he assumed the act was “consensual.”
The following Monday, April 9, the construction worker — who is only partially identified in public documents — returned to Chevy Chase House and was seen on the resident’s floor.
That same day, the activities director contacted the construction supervisor to ask for a written statement from the construction worker, who declined to provide one. The worker was then escorted off the premises, though he was apparently allowed to return at some point to discuss the incident with staff. It’s unclear whether the supervisor was on-site or the nature of the work the crew was performing.
The report indicates the activities director waited two more days before notifying the Chevy Chase House administrator on April 11. The administrator then called police and family on April 12, nearly one week after the alleged incident, according to the report.
D.C. police investigated a possible case of “indecent exposure” but suspended the investigation due to lack of evidence. According to the health department report, the woman said she has no recollection of the event. A family physician met with the woman a week after the incident and found no physical signs of harm.
Still, DC Health levied a $10,000 fine against the Chevy Chase House last year, writing it "failed to immediately report an allegation of sexual abuse" to the head of the facility, “failed to thoroughly investigate an allegation of abuse” and "failed to take appropriate action to protect all residents from potential abuse" during the investigation.
What’s more, investigators wrote the facility provided incomplete information about the incident, noting that Chevy Chase House initially reported in April 2018 that police were investigating, the perpetrator “was escorted from the premises” and the victim “had been assessed and determined to have sustained no harm.”
But, the Health Regulation and Licensing Administration wrote, it wasn’t until June 2018 that it became aware that “the response actions taken by [the Chevy Chase House] were not timely based on when [the Chevy Chase House] first became aware of the allegation,” writing those actions “were not complete.”
No other incidents have been reported by other residents, according to the review.
'Lack of Care'?
Lori Smetanka, executive director of the advocacy group The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, called the assisted-living center’s handling of the incident “outrageous.”
She said not only should have the facility notified appropriate authorities quickly, there was no indication in the report that health care administrators interviewed the woman.
“If there was actually a sexual abuse situation or any type of abusive situation here, you need to follow up immediately in order to preserve evidence [and] in order to get recollections of individuals with dementia,” Smetanka said. “The sooner you can connect with them and find out from their perspective what happened, the more likely you are that they may remember what happened.”
Anderson, the attorney for the family, said while Chevy Chase House notified them about the incident, the family had no idea the extent of the reporting failures until News4 showed them the DC Health assessment.
"When someone puts their mom or dad in an assisted-living facility, there's a trust there,” Anderson told News4. “It showed a blatant lack of care.”
The son said he moved his mother to a new facility shortly after the incident, but questions remain as his mother doesn't recall the number or substance of interactions she had with the construction worker.
“That means the whole time she was there, who knows what could have been going on?” he said.
How We Got the Story
While reviewing agency oversight reports submitted to the D.C. Council, reporter Scott MacFarlane noticed a $10,000 fine the D.C. Department of Health levied against the Chevy Chase House last year. He submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to that fine and received roughly 20 pages of records detailing the agency’s July 2018 annual inspection of the assisted living facility. The documents included timelines and salient details about the facility’s failure to quickly report possible sex misconduct. The I-Team also requested police documents relating to the case and tracked down the family of the woman involved.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.