Police chief: Nursing home 'dumped' man in wheelchair at Flying J

News-DemocratAugust 1, 2013 

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— A Lebanon nursing home left a disabled man with assorted health problems at an Alorton truck stop Wednesday afternoon after he refused to submit to a background check.

An official with the company that owns the Lebanon Care Center said the nursing home couldn't hold the man against his will, and simply took him to the place where he wanted to go.

But Alorton Deputy Police Chief Gerald Crenshaw has asked the state to investigate how the nursing home could leave Thomas Hearty, 56, sitting in his wheelchair outside the Denny's and Flying J truck stop off Illinois 15.

"They just dumped him on the side of the road -- no medication, no ID, no nothing," Crenshaw said. "This is not a place for him, and someone should have recognized this is not a place for him."

On Thursday afternoon, spokeswoman Sabrina Miller of the state Department of Public Health, which oversees the operation of nursing homes in Illinois, said the department has opened an investigation.

"This matter is receiving our full and immediate attention," she said in a statement. Because the investigation is ongoing, Miller said, "That is all we can say at this point."

State law requires everyone at a nursing home to submit to a background check.

"There is nothing in state law that precludes them from doing what they did," Miller added.

When Crenshaw arrived at the scene Wednesday, he found a man with a history of diabetes and at least four strokes who apparently had been left there.

Two nursing home workers left Hearty sitting in his wheelchair outside the restaurant with his clothes in two clear, plastic bags on the ground. He had no way of opening the door to the restaurant or picking up his belongings without a stranger's help.

Crenshaw said he first called the Lebanon Care Center and asked them to come back for Hearty, but the center's administrator, Deborah Cutright, hung up on him.

Cutright later called Crenshaw to say they changed their minds, but by then Crenshaw said he no longer trusted the center to care for Hearty.

"It just doesn't feel right to leave somebody like that," Crenshaw said.

Crenshaw had an ambulance take Hearty to Memorial Hospital in Belleville. He was discharged Thursday and ended up being brought back to the nursing home, according to Miller.

Cutright declined to comment and referred reporters to the company's vice president of operations, Greg Wilson.

"He is where he requested to go," said Wilson, vice president of operations for Petersen Health Care based in Peoria. "We are not a prison. We cannot hold anyone against their will. He was left where he wanted to go."

About 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, two Lebanon Care Center employees ordered a soda, burger and fries for Hearty. A Denny's waitress told the care workers they could pay after their meal, but the women said they weren't staying with Hearty, then left.

When the waitress brought out Hearty's hamburger, he said he had only one good hand, and asked: "Could you help me put mustard on that?"

Hearty said he was driven to the truck stop -- more than 20 miles from the Lebanon Care Center -- because he refused to sign a form allowing for a criminal background check. He has a 1992 conviction for felony residential burglary in Fairview Heights.

Hearty said he felt uncomfortable after an employee at the center loudly talked about his criminal history in front of other patients before asking him to sign a consent form for the background check.

Hearty's ex-wife, Joyce Hearty, said in a phone interview later that Hearty had been staying at the center for about a month, so it's unclear why he was only now forced to leave.

Joyce Hearty said a woman at the facility called her and was crying when she said Hearty couldn't stay at the center anymore.

Joyce Hearty said her ex-husband can't stay in her Cahokia home because she watches their granddaughter, and the state Department of Children and Family Services said Hearty is not allowed to live with them.

"I finally got him out of the house and into a home," Joyce Hearty said. "I don't know what to do about him now."

Joyce Hearty said Thomas Hearty paid for his nursing home stay with his state disability checks, and that it was difficult to find a place for him to stay.

"He's had several strokes and he's not the same person he was," Joyce Hearty said. "His mother's dead and his brother ... can't even get out of his chair. There's nowhere for him to go. Now he's homeless."

The Lebanon Care Center, located at 1201 N. Alton St., has a "much below average" overall rating compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and posted on Medicare.gov, the official U.S. government site for Medicare.

The Lebanon facility had 11 health deficiencies compared to the average number of deficiencies in Illinois and nationally, which is about six, based on information from state and federal health inspectors between July 2012 and June 30, according to the Medicare website.

Inspectors found that the nursing home, among other things, failed to hire only people with no legal history of abusing residents or report neglect; assist residents who need total help with eating, grooming and personal hygiene, and prevent residents from getting new bed sores.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville. Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 239-2625.

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