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 PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- The region's largest nursing home operator today entered a no-contest plea in two patient deaths and Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr., who called the corporate manslaughter convictions unprecedented, announced he will use $100,000 in case proceeds to set up a new interagency task force to protect the sick and elderly.
 "This conviction breaks new legal ground in Pennsylvania," Preate said at a news conference here. "It establishes for the first time that corporations which operate nursing homes can be held criminally responsible for the neglect of patients in their care."
 In the Philadelphia case, GMS Management Inc., a subsidiary of Geriatric and Medical Centers Inc. (Geri-Med), entered its plea to two counts of involuntary manslaughter before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin, who accepted the pleas and entered a guilty verdict.
 Geri-Med, of 5601 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, is the largest manager of nursing homes in the Philadelphia area.
 As part of a plea agreement, GMS will pay a $20,000 fine -- the maximum permitted by state law -- and $100,000 in costs of investigation.
 Preate said the $100,000 will be used to establish an interagency task force to investigate cases of patient abuse and neglect in nursing homes in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
 "We want this case to serve notice on all health care corporations: Patient care comes first," Preate said.
 Preate said that based on the evidence in the case, "these two deaths were a result not of malice by individuals, but neglect by an institution. I believe this prosecution already has prompted them to do better."
 Preate noted that GMS has pledged to cooperate with state agencies to improve the quality of care in its nursing homes. "Geri-Med is an important provider of services in the Delaware Valley area and the vast number of people in Geri-Med are compassionate care givers."
 The charges against GMS stemmed from the deaths of Margaret White, 75, and Elizabeth Ellis, 69.
 White lived at Care Pavilion at Walnut Park, 6212 Walnut St., Philadelphia, from June 1988 until her death on Nov. 29, 1991. Ellis was admitted to Cobbs Creek Nursing Center, 6900 Cobbs Creek Parkway, Philadelphia, in 1986 and died at a Philadelphia hospital Sept. 1, 1990.
 GMS operated both Care Pavilion and Cobbs Creek under a contract with Resource Housing of America, Atlanta, Ga., which owns the homes. Following action by the state Department of Health earlier this year, operation of the homes was transferred to new management.
 Criminal complaints filed by Preate's office in September 1992 charged that the victims died from infected bed sores that resulted from negligent care. The charges grew out of a probe conducted by a statewide investigating grand jury.
 "The grand jury found that GMS Management's failure to correct continuing deficiencies in management and staffing of the nursing homes contributed to the deaths of these women and constituted criminal behavior," Preate said.
 "The corporation had a duty under the law to provide adequate care for its patients. The corporation failed to discharge that duty in these cases."
 Another landmark case, which Preate personally prosecuted as district attorney of Lackawanna County, established the principle that individuals could be held criminally liable for deaths resulting from their failure to provide care.
 In that case, Walter and Helen Pestinikas of Scranton were convicted of third-degree murder in the starvation death of 92-year-old Joseph Kly, a boarder in their care.
 "Today's conviction in the GMS case extends the principle we fought so hard to establish in the Pestinikas case: Under the laws of Pennsylvania, corporations as well as individuals can be criminally prosecuted if they enter into a contract to provide care for someone, then allow that person to suffer from neglect," Preate explained.
 The Attorney General said his office this week conferred with the Health Department, Department of Aging, Department of Public Welfare, the Philadelphia Legal Aid Society and the Philadelphia-based Coalition for the Rights of Infirm Elderly (CARIE) regarding the formation of the task force.
 Preate said the task force initially would:
 -- Provide money to the Health Department so it can conduct unannounced inspections of nursing homes during odd hours, such as during night shifts.
 -- Pay for an ombudsman to work full-time on problems relating to care in nursing homes in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
 -- Exchange information to better identify problems and coordinate investigations.
 "The deaths of these women were tragic," Preate said. But by establishing this task force, I hope some ultimate good will result for nursing home residents."
 The Attorney General said that if the task force is successful and additional funding can be found, he wants to widen the task force concept to cover the entire state.
 Preate said his office, which routinely investigates Medicaid fraud cases, began its investigation in Philadelphia after receiving complaints from sources about the level of care provided to several Medical Assistance patients at Care Pavilion.
 As part of the probe, an individual was recruited by Preate's office and trained as a nurse's aide. The individual obtained employment at Care Pavilion, and his salary was supplemented by the Office of Attorney General.
 "This kind of undercover investigative work is critical in documenting abuses in nursing homes," Preate said. "I will not hesitate to have my agents conduct this type of undercover work as part of our participation in the task force."
 Preate said current law in Pennsylvania is not adequate to protect nursing home patients.
 "That's why state Secretary of Aging Linda M. Rhodes and I have worked with the Legislature to develop new legislation to crack down on abuse and neglect of elderly Pennsylvanians."
 Preate said the legislation, HB 2186, has been introduced in the House and hearings are pending.
 In addition to the involuntary manslaughter counts, GMS also was charged with recklessly endangering another person and Medicaid fraud. Under the plea agreement, those charges were withdrawn.
 Preate was joined at the news conference by Deputy Attorney General Ronald W. Costen, the prosecutor. Costen also will be involved in coordinating the work of the new task force, Preate said.
 -0- 11/12/93
 /CONTACT: Jack J. Lewis, assistant press secretary of the Office of Attorney General, 717-787-5211, or at home, 717-657-9840/

CO: Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office; GMS Management Inc.;
 Geriatric and Medical Centers Inc. ST: Pennsylvania IN: SU:

MK -- PH007 -- 3674 11/12/93 12:03 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 12, 1993

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