The previous owners of a nursing home in western Henrico County face a $10 million lawsuit for negligence and chronic understaffing that allegedly led to a male nurse’s sexual assault of an incapacitated 72-year-old woman with dementia almost two years ago.
The co-guardians appointed to represent the woman and the interests of her estate filed the suit in Henrico Circuit Court last week against Lexington Post Acute Care, LLC, which operated the facility as Lexington Court Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center. The defendants also include Cambridge Healthcare Management, LLC, and Lexington Holdings, LLC.
The civil suit includes graphic details of a sexual assault by Thomas Nganga, a licensed practical nurse who was convicted of attempted rape in early March and sentenced to two years in prison. It also alleges that an aide at the nursing home, then operating as Lexington Court Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, witnessed the assault on Oct. 15, 2018, but did not report it until the next morning, which allowed Nganga to sanitize the scene and destroy evidence.
An attorney for the defendants said Tuesday that she was not authorized to comment on the litigation.
The lawsuit does not name the current owner of the nursing facility, which now operates as Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center. The skilled nursing facility has experienced the deadliest COVID-19 outbreak in Virginia this year, resulting in the deaths of 51 residents.
“The lawsuit was filed against the owner and the operator at the time of the neglect,” said Robert W. Carter Jr., an attorney in Appomattox County who filed the suit on behalf of the woman’s co-guardians, Richmond attorney Shawn Majette and Roanoke attorney Stephanie Pitsenberger Cook.
Majette and Cook are also co-conservators of the estate of the woman, who is living, but is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and requires total care.
The lawsuit suit focuses on staffing of the facility, which had been faulted in a state survey conducted on behalf of the Medicare and Medicaid programs last fall when the center was under the previous owner.
Marquis Health Services, based in New Jersey, purchased the 190-bed nursing home on Dec. 30, 2019.
“Marquis is not associated in any way with the seller and there is no financial interest [for the seller] in Canterbury,” Canterbury Administrator Jeremiah Davis said in an email on Tuesday. “The transaction ... provides for indemnification on prior matters. Canterbury has no liability on this matter.”
Davis said last week that Canterbury began “an aggressive recruiting and retainment plan” for staff in January. He said staffing had reached “its highest point in years” when the coronavirus outbreak began in mid-March and the center lost almost 70 employees, including 36 who returned to work after recovering from COVID-19.
Subsequently, Davis said, “Canterbury deployed tremendous resources to address the staffing challenges, and did so successfully.”
The lawsuit alleges that the previous owners, “for purely self-serving, financial reasons, intended to abandon Lexington Court, its patients, and the Richmond area long-term care market. In pursuit of that objective, the defendants attempted to maximize profit and/or ‘cut their exit costs’ by understaffing Lexington Court.”
The nursing home owners and operators “were duty-bound to ensure appropriate numbers of qualified staff were present to supervise [the resident who was assaulted], protect her, and keep her safe from harm caused by nursing home staff and others, warn/inform others to do the same, and provide her with the care she needed.”
Instead, the suit alleges that the owners and operators understaffed Lexington Court by at least 15% and saved almost $5.6 million in staffing expenses from 2016 through 2018.
The woman whose interests are represented by the lawsuit was admitted to Lexington Court in February 2016. She was “cognitively impaired from Alzheimer’s dementia,” the suit states. “She was unable to recognize danger, unable to protect herself or others, and exhibited ‘child-like’ behavior.”
“She was described as a sweet person and always smiled,” it adds. “She was also a total care patient who was frequently confused, disoriented in multiple spheres, had impaired decision-making, and required around-the-clock supervision from the defendants’ staff for her safety and protection.”
Lexington Court was understaffed on Oct. 15, 2018, the day of the assault that resulted in Nganga’s conviction, the suit states. The center failed to ensure a supervisor during the shift from 3 to 11 p.m., leaving Nganga unsupervised between back-to-back eight-hour shifts he worked from 3 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning.
The aide who witnessed the assault was completing back-to-back eight-hour shifts. As she was ending her second shift around 9 p.m., the lawsuit alleges that the aide saw Nganga “having non-consensual sexual intercourse” with the dementia patient. The aide confronted him but did not immediately inform the facility’s administrator, nursing director or other staff, the suit states.
Instead, the suit said the aide left the facility shortly after witnessing the incident. As a result, the suit alleges that Nganga was left “alone and unsupervised” with the patient and allowed to “ ‘sanitize’ the scene by changing, removing, and/or destroying sheets, clothing, and briefs and washing evidence from his body” and the woman’s.
The aide reported the incident the next morning, and the facility’s administrator contacted law enforcement.
A 12-member jury convicted Nganga in Henrico Circuit Court on March 4 of attempted rape but acquitted him of abducting the woman, who could not walk on her own.
There was no DNA evidence presented during the trial to link Nganga to the patient, who became uncooperative and “tearful” during a forensic exam, according to testimony.
The Henrico prosecutor asked for the maximum sentence allowed under the law, 10 years, but the jury recommended the minimum of two years.