Fourteen mentally ill residents of an adult home who were coerced into unnecessary prostate operations in 1998 will each receive half a million dollars as part of a settlement with Parkway Hospital and Leben Home for Adults.
The medical scheme generated tens of thousands of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid fees. Twenty-four men were subjected to the unnecessary procedures, but only 17 participated in the suit. Three of the men have died since it began three years ago.
Most of the money from the settlement will be used to set up trust accounts for the plaintiffs to ensure that it is properly spent. Social workers will assess their health needs and assist them in improving their living situations.
“We are delighted with this settlement, as it will result in meaningful change in the lives of our clients, who have languished in institutional settings for many years,” said Lisa Cleary of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP, pro bono counsel on the case. “With access to appropriate medical care and the possibility of new housing arrangements, our clients can now look forward to opportunities they never had before.”
The case began when an employee of Parkway Hospital called the New York State Commission on Quality of Care to say she could no longer live with her conscience over what she saw going on. She reported that every week, residents from the Leben Home in Elmhurst arrived by van in groups of four or five for urological procedures. She questioned whether the patients needed the surgeries or consented to them since they did not appear to understand what was going on.
After a lengthy investigation, the New York State Health Department revoked the license of Dr. Jamile Peress, who had arranged the procedures and was co-owner of the hospital, suspended the license of Dr. Harry Josifidis, who conducted the surgery and fined Parkway. After the lawsuit was filed, Leben’s operator, Rabbi Jacob Rubin, was removed as well.
The investigation also revealed dangerous and filthy conditions at the home. Beds were broken, linen filthy and mice and rats ran through holes in floor tiles. Residents with the most bizarre behaviors and those who refused to shower were housed in the basement. The case helped push Albany to make its first serious efforts at overhauling and more closely supervising the adult care system.
“I think what this case will do is send a message to other adult home operators,” said Timothy Clune of Disability Advocates. “I’m not aware of any other settlement of this kind in the adult home system in New York State.” Disability Advocates brought the suit with Jeanette Zelhof of MFY Legal Services and Cleary.
According to Clune, the case would not have been possible without the resources of the law firm. Over the past three years there were 47 depositions involving hospital workers, doctors and the mentally ill men who underwent surgery.
The defendants who settled did not admit any wrongdoing. A group connected to Americare, a home-health agency that had workers at Leben, declined to settle and will most likely be taken to court next year.
Leben Home for Adults is now called Queens Adult Care Center and run by Leon Hoffman, who helped turn around two other failing agencies in New York.
There is a new heating system, air conditioning, furniture and phones in every room. In addition, walls have been painted, floors retiled and rooms redecorated. Besides the physical improvements, case managers have been brought in to help the residents.
Still, Hoffman said funding is inadequate to meet all the residents’ needs. The home currently receives $28 a day, per person, for food, medicine and housing. “I feel great about the work we have done but I hope that more help will come to this industry to provide the level of care that is required,” he said. “It cannot be done on $28 a day.”
Pending in the State Legislature is a bill that would increase Social Security insurance for adult homes. About 15,000 mentally ill adults—most of them poor, many of them black and Hispanic—reside in more than 300 adult homes in the state, the majority in the city and its suburbs.
Besides a shortage of funding, there is also a shortage of available beds. According to Hoffman, 75 facilities have closed over the past year and as many as 50 are in the process of closing. The newly-named Queens Adult Care Center is filled to its capacity of 341 adults and there is a waiting list.
“It gives us pleasure to provide three meals a day and a bed for people who come from all kinds of places, including the streets,” Hoffman said. “But it has been a rollercoaster over the past few years. It’s been very, very difficult.”