Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas laid the groundwork Wednesday for a criminal investigation into allegations of neglect and potential abuse at the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix.
Thomas asked the Arizona Department of Veterans Services to hand over any records relating to complaints filed against the nursing home as well as the personnel records of staff.
Thomas also has asked that anyone who knows of a patient who was potentially mistreated at the home to contact his office.
His request followed media reports that some veterans at the home were left for hours in soiled undergarments, were bullied by staff and were left without their basic hygiene needs being met.
“The facts reported in the newspapers and other media outlets seem to indicate abuses,” said Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for Thomas. “I can’t predict where any investigation will go, but this is something we have to follow up on.”
Lotstein said county investigators will try to determine whether workers at the home broke laws that protect the elderly from abuse.
In addition, the office will also look at whether management at the home followed state laws requiring them to report mistreatment.
Thomas made the announcement the same day that Republican lawmakers criticized Gov. Janet Napolitano for picking politically connected law firm Coppersmith Gordon Schermer & Brockelman PLC to represent the troubled nursing home.
On Wednesday, the Tribune reported that the firm was hired by the state to both represent the home and investigate potential wrongdoing. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Napolitano said the firm was charged with reviewing records and recommending corrective actions, as well as representing the home in legal matters. She said there was never any conflict of interest.
“I made a very professional decision,” Napolitano said during a press conference Wednesday. “They are the best game in town.”
Members of the firm include Napolitano’s longtime political allies, such as her former campaign attorney Andy Gordon and former U.S. Congressman Sam Coppersmith.
The Arizona Department of Health Services continues to review the state-run nursing home’s plan to fix deficiencies uncovered during a routine annual inspection in February. Regulators will decide whether or not to add state fines to the $10,000 in federal penalties already levied.
“We won’t accept a state plan of correction until we’ve reviewed it for possible enforcement action,” said Lisa Wynn, assistant director for the office of licensing services.
Dr. Leonard Kirschner, appointed by Napolitano to conduct an independent review, said he’ll consult with attorneys for the nursing home to figure out why problems occurred and how to get them fixed.
Kirschner said the firm’s corporate hospital background made it an obvious choice.
“This is the best group of people in dealing with these types of faculties,” said Kirschner, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
“They’re working for the facility,” he said. “We’re consulting. I’m listening to what they’re finding.”