A lawsuit filed Tuesday by residents against the operators of Alden nursing homes claims that an intentional lack of staffing has led to numerous injuries and illness.

“Residents have fallen down stairs while strapped to a wheelchair,” the lawsuit states, “fractured their neck when dropped by one person using a mechanical lift that requires two people, and ingested poisonous chemicals due to lack of care and supervision.”

“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 suit states.

The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of 11 nursing homes residents anonymously named as John or Jane Doe. They range in age from 26 to 82, and are all on Medicaid, the federal and state program that pays for health care for people with low income. Attorneys for the AARP Foundation, Equip for Equality, private law firms and the Office of State Guardian represent the residents.

Alden is a large, for-profit nursing facility network operating more than 50 facilities that house thousands of residents in Illinois, with more than $250 million in annual revenue. Not all Alden facilities appear to have the problems alleged — some have above average quality ratings from federal regulators. In the past, Alden officials have said that residents were well cared for but had serious medical conditions. Company officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new lawsuit.

The defendants include Alden Group, Ltd., Alden Management Services, Inc., and six long-term care facilities: Alden Lakeland in Chicago, Alden Terrace McHenry, Alden Town Manor in Cicero, Alden Heather Health Care Center in Harvey, Alden Princeton Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Chicago, and Alden Village North in Chicago.

Alden Village North, which cares for children and adults with developmental disabilities and complex medical conditions. was the subject of a Tribune investigation in 2010 that found eight residents had died there in cases receiving citations since 2008. State regulators took action to close the home, but it remained open.

The new findings were based largely on inspection reports and residents’ medical records.

Kelly Bagby, vice president of litigation for the AARP Foundation, said that after three years investigating state inspection reports and medical records involving Alden, the findings were “genuinely shocking.” Similar lawsuits have been filed against homes in other states, she said.

“This is something I hope will send alarm bells throughout the industry,” she said. “We’re drawing a line in the sand and saying this is intolerable.”

Alden Management Services had significant control over the day-to-day operations of the homes, including budgeting, staffing, contracting services, and quality of care, collecting about $5 million per year in fees, the suit stated.

Alden is believed to be largely owned and controlled by Floyd Schlossberg and his family, who are also senior executives for Alden businesses and serve on their boards of directors.

Cost reports filed by the facilities showed that Alden saved millions of dollars each year by not having enough employees, while falling short of the statutory minimum of nursing hours, the suit stated. From 2018 through 2020, the suit alleged, Alden Facilities provided nursing care hours below even the minimum levels required by state law, and should have provided more than one million additional nursing assistant hours. The plaintiffs allege that Alden could save millions of dollar a year through understaffing.

To avoid detection, the suit asserts, Alden lied about its staffing levels to regulators, and according to some employees, even falsified documents with “ghost staffing,” claiming people were working who were either no longer employed by Alden or off work at the time.

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To limit liability, the complaint alleged, Alden has residents sign arbitration agreements to waive their right to sue, to require secrecy in settlements, and to pay for legal costs — even though under Alden policies, plaintiffs typically have access to only $30 per month from their income.

These residents are among the most vulnerable in society, with medical conditions that require help with basic activities such as eating, getting dressed and getting out of bed.

Due to the lack of adequate staff, the suit alleged, Alden residents suffered severe injuries from falls, acquired pressure ulcers that worsen without treatment and waited long periods to be diagnosed with sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Attorney Steve Levin, who helped to file the complaint, said he found more than 200 lawsuits filed against Alden nursing homes in Cook County since 2015, and more than 1,000 citations by the Illinois Department of Health.

This suit goes beyond individual cases to seek an overall solution to the problem. Ultimately, Levin said, the goal is to get a court order with ongoing supervision to require the homes to provide sufficient staffing to take proper care of all of their residents.

The suit seeks class-action status so that all Medicaid-eligible residents of Alden nursing homes could be awarded damages or fall under court rulings arising from the case.

rmccoppin@chicagotribune.com



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