LEE — A nursing home aide is facing criminal charges for allegedly touching the genitals of a female resident last year.
And his accuser has filed a lawsuit against the facility, Lee Healthcare, which rehired the man after it said an internal investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.
Louis Hansen, 63, of Pittsfield, is awaiting a jury-of-six trial in Central Berkshire District Court on charges of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, and permitting injury to an elderly person.
But, Hansen’s attorney said his accuser, Jessie Cibelli, 92, of Lee, might have leveled a false accusation because of mental decline that comes with age, according to court documents.
Cibelli’s family and the police officers who interviewed her about the alleged incident, though, said Cibelli’s mental capacity is intact.
The trial, originally scheduled for February, was pushed to Sept. 8. It now is on hold again because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the court clerk’s office.
Cibelli filed a civil lawsuit in July against the 88-bed rehabilitation nursing home and its parent company, Next Step Healthcare, which also owns The Landing at Laurel Lake, an adjoining assisted living facility. Next Step owns 28 facilities in the Northeast.
In her suit, Cibelli claims that the facility — it has a history of violations and fines for “deficiencies” that include apparent neglect, dirty conditions and allegations of abuse — was negligent in preventing her alleged abuse, ignored her screams after the alleged incident and did not report it to the state Department of Public Health.
Agency records show the company did report it April 11, the same day Cibelli’s daughter went to police. And after reviewing the incident report, the agency deemed the company’s own investigation and follow-through sound, and did not pursue its own investigation.
It is unclear whether Hansen still is working for the company since it rehired him after investigating the late March 2019 incident.
Hansen could not be reached for comment. His public defender, Joanna Arkema, declined to comment. And representatives of Lee Healthcare and Next Step did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Attorneys for Next Step intend to ask the court to dismiss the civil case based on several factors, including what they say is an arbitration agreement signed by Cibelli upon entering the facility, according to her attorney, Britain Thames.
It was Susan Cibelli who, after her mother’s release from the nursing home, reported the alleged incident to Lee Police.
Police say that in an interview, Jessie Cibelli told them that she had fallen asleep while reading a book on top of her bed, when she began dreaming she was being touched. She alleges that she awoke to find Hansen with a hand down the front of her incontinence briefs, touching her genitals and the inside of her leg.
When she asked what he was doing, he quickly removed his hand and said he was checking to see if she had urinated. She said she screamed at him to leave, and he ran from the room.
She told police that was the first time she ever had seen Hansen since she was admitted for rehabilitation in late February 2019, after a stay at Berkshire Medical Center for a back injury. She also said she always had changed herself, and never had been asked or checked for incontinence by anyone.
Cibelli alleges that no one responded to her screams and that, when she told her occupational therapist about the alleged incident, “she didn’t seem to care,” and did not report it.
She also said she was afraid to tell other staff for fear of retaliation. Her daughter reported the alleged incident after her release.
In his report, Lee Police Officer Benjamin Towne wrote that, in his interview with Cibelli, he found her “of sound mind” and free of “mental handicaps” or a decline in “mental ability.” Cibelli lives alone in Lee and recently traveled alone to visit a grandchild in Virginia, her daughter said.
Towne said that during Hansen’s voluntary interview, he changed his story several times about how he checked Cibelli for urination, and he grew upset during the interview and left before it was complete.
Hansen said he has worked at the facility for three years, and has been an aide for 11 years.
And Towne said that, through his interview and further investigating, he learned that Hansen’s method of checking was not standard procedure among aides, and that there was no reason for him to have put his hand inside her briefs.
Towne said that upon asking the administrator of Lee Healthcare, he was told the company did not have a policy for changing briefs.
The facility’s administrator at the time, Bolaji Mustapha, filed the incident report with the DPH the same day Lee Police contacted him. He wrote that the company had found the claim “unsubstantiated,” and that Jessie Cibelli could not say exactly when the incident occurred.
Mustapha, who left the facility in December 2019 and works at a Springfield nursing home, wrote that Hansen remained suspended during the investigation.
The nurse aide registry and personnel file for Hansen showed no record of discipline or abuse allegations, Mustapha said, and other staff did not report problems with Hansen.
Mustapha also said the allegations prompted the facility to “re-educate” staff in the proper way to check for incontinence that includes making sure residents are awake first and having two staff members present.
The company also instituted a policy for staff to not kiss or hug residents “irrespective of familiarity.” Another resident had complained that Hansen had kissed them on the right cheek and “did not like it,” according to Mustapha’s report.
The DPH’s Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification Intake Unit reviewed the company’s investigation and findings, and found it to have established that there was no intent or harm, and so the state could not substantiate abuse and so did not conduct an on-site investigation.
But, the internal investigation apparently was not sufficient to sway the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.
When asked why the office still is pursuing criminal charges, the DA’s public information officer, Andrew McKeever, said the state’s rules of professional conduct for prosecutors “restrict me from commenting on pending trials.”
Mustapha told The Eagle he could not comment, since he no longer works there. When asked if the alleged incident had anything to do with his departure, he said, “Not at all.”
Susan Cibelli said that Mustapha told her he wanted to “make this go away,” and asked her if “there is something we can work out about this situation,” according to court documents.
History of violations
From May 2017 to September 2019, the federal Department of Health and Human Services cited Lee Healthcare for 38 violations, some of which amounted to fines totaling nearly $69,000.
These include citations for a lack of safeguards against hiring workers without completing nurse aide registry checks to screen for a history of abuse, and safeguards against neglect or mistreatment of residents.
The agency also cited the company for not maintaining complete medical records.
One report says that over a period of days in September 2018, a resident was lying in their own urine and feces in a broken wheelchair recliner seat, in a room that included evidence of feces, urine, dirty linens, dust and dead bugs. The stench had permeated the mattress and was so strong that it wafted into the hallway. The room itself was dilapidated, with broken furniture and chipped paint. A family member said an aide did not use soap to clean the resident.
Other violations include, in some cases, the following: failing to treat residents with “respect and dignity;” not keeping the facility free of some accident hazards; not using methods to prevent ulcers and infections; failing to provide “a safe, clean, comfortable, and homelike environment;” improperly using drugs and equipment to restrain residents; and unsanitary food handling.
In an interview with agency officials that month, Mustapha told them, “Things are better than they used to be.”