Arrest of ex-care center worker expected
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:01 AM
"The arrest of a former Port Orchard Care Center employee involved in several alleged incidents of sexual and physical abuse of the nursing home's residents is imminent, authorities say.Port Orchard Police chief Alan Townsend said the criminal investigation his department launched along with the state attorney general March 10 is nearly finished. Local authorities were waiting Thursday to receive documents from the attorney general before wrapping up the probe.In the meantime, a few more interviews will be conducted to strengthen further probable cause for arrest, Townsend said.Police say the suspect they expect to arrest was fired from the care center in January, when reports of sexual and physical abuse became widely known. An arrest would follow a state decision to lift a ban on new admissions at the nursing home. State long-term care ombudsman Gayle Helseth-Kenison called the decision, which followed a four-month state investigation into the facility and its practices, premature. She said two more complaints about the facility's care practices were filed at her office, which she in turn referred back to state Department of Social and Health Services officials. Helseth-Kenison said until those complaints are resolved, she's uncomfortable that new admissions are permissible.Besides the two complaints Helseth-Kenison characterized as egregious, DSHS officials are investigating several former or current employees of the center.Suzanne Plaja, assistant manager with the resident-protection program at DSHS, confirmed her division is actively investigating at least two former center employees. Plaja said DSHS certifies health-care professionals for work in nursing-home settings. If allegations prove true, the worst DSHS could do, she said, is not allow those former employees to work ever again in a nursing home in Washington.The Department of Health presides over health-care professional licensing. Sue Shoblom, director of health professions, said the department is also conducting an investigation of former Port Orchard Care Center employees. Shoblom said it's common in such alleged abuse cases for local authorities and state agencies to conduct coordinated investigations. She said her department could decide to revoke the former employees' professional licenses.It's still unclear whether the three other employees involved in several forms of alleged abuse had been suspended, pending the criminal investigation. Port Orchard Care Center administrator Dawn Gegenfurtner couldn't be reached for further comment as of press deadline. In a prepared statement submitted earlier this week, Gegenfurtner said personnel issues won't be discussed while the investigation is ongoing, but noted that when suspensions and terminations were warranted, those actions were taken.The center is owned by Tennessee-based LIfe Care Centers of America. The corporation owns 230 nursing home across the country. Beecher Hunter, an executive vice president of the company, said in a prepared statement that we have worked closely with state and local authorities regarding abuse allegations against three certified nursing assistants, and no substantiating evidence was found. Another certified nursing assistant was suspended from our center on Jan. 19 for alleged abuse and, after completing our internal investigation, was terminated..Until all investigations are complete, authorities say they can't release information on any of the suspects."