By Adam Rodewald, Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette
SUAMICO, Wis. - The state has ordered an assisted-living facility to close after inspectors found physical and mental abuse of residents at the hands of the facility administrator, a registered sex offender.
Former Longview Terrace Administrator Jason Tegge is accused of taunting and hitting residents, many of whom are mentally ill or struggling with addiction, during his tenure at the facility, according to inspection records obtained by the Press-Gazette from the state Department of Health Services Division of Quality Assurance.
Tegge, 31, was convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a child in 2004 while employed by Longview Terrace's parent company, Country Healthcare Inc. His mother, Debra Tegge, is the owner of the company.
Debra Tegge has appealed the state's order to close Longview Terrace I, which is one of the two buildings that make up the facility. She has been allowed to continue operating the 20-bed building until a decision is reached on the appeal.
Inspectors also found numerous serious violations at the other building on the Suamico property, called Longview Terrace II, as well as at a Country Healthcare Inc. operation in Oconto in the past year. Records show caregivers at those facilities forcibly restrained residents, neglected basic care and knowingly left those with violent tendencies unsupervised, among other issues.
Debra Tegge told state regulators that staff at Longview Terrace I had no policy or procedure for dealing with violent or destructive residents. According to records, she said county care workers, not facility employees, are responsible for the residents.
"All we do is keep them here and we follow the county instructions. All we want to do is keep them sober. They (the counties) are in charge, we are not. They have and control the money. My hands are tied," she is quoted as saying.
The state fined Country Healthcare a combined $71,250 in 2013 for violations at both buildings in Suamico and its operation in Oconto because of the documented failures and handed down its most severe punishment - license revocation - against Longview Terrace I, where the majority of the incidents occurred.
A third property owned by the company, Woodhaven Manor in Pulaski, has not had any enforcement action taken against it.
Revoking a facility's license forces its owner to close the property or hand it over to a new owner. Longview Terrace I remains open at this time pending the outcome of the appeal, but it can't take in any new residents. Longview Terrace II, which has 16 beds, was cited for several violations in the past year and had to develop a correction plan to address those issues, but it can still accept new residents.
Other sanctions levied against Country Healthcare Inc., including an order prohibiting Jason Tegge from having contact with residents, have been suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.
"We're holding their feet to the fire with the regulatory options we have available," said Otis Woods, administrator of the division of quality assurance. "If you don't correct violations and continue to harm residents, we will revoke your license."
The state issued license revocations to 21 out of more than 3,400 assisted living facilities in 2012, the most recent year for which statewide summary data is available.
Neither Debra Tegge nor Jason Tegge would respond to repeated inquiries from the Press-Gazette for comments on these violations.
"Really, the only thing I can tell you is we disagree with the findings, and it is under appeal. That is really all I'm at liberty to say," Debra Tegge said.
Residents at Longview Terrace I compared the facility under Jason Tegge's leadership to a prison and told inspectors they feared for their safety. Some ran away and begged neighbors to call police as the climate inside deteriorated, according to hundreds of pages of 2013 inspection records.
The facility had 13 residents at the time of its last inspection in December but can house up to 20. Many of the residents are placed there on court order and have severe mental health and substance-abuse issues. Longview Terrace I is also licensed to care for people who have brain injuries or a terminal illness.
The state redacted all names from the inspection records.
In their reports, inspectors noted a September 2012 incident when Jason Tegge pushed a 25-year-old mentally ill resident to the ground and dragged him by his foot while others watched. The man tried to stop Jason Tegge by grabbing a handrail in the hallway, but it ripped off the wall, according to the records.
"He (Jason Tegge) thinks he's God," a resident told the inspectors.
A caregiver who no longer works at Longview Terrace I told inspectors Jason Tegge "would push (the 25-year-old), would push (him), would push (him) and then call the police and say it was (the 25-year-old's) fault. It was not."
"It was (Jason Tegge's) way or the highway," the caregiver said.
A referral has been sent to the state Office of Caregiver Quality for further investigation into Jason Tegge's actions. If abuse is substantiated, Jason Tegge would be listed in a caregiver misconduct registry, Woods said.
Jason Tegge no longer works at Longview Terrace. A woman at the facility who did not provide her name identified herself as the building administrator and said she took over the top position in October.
While a Country Healthcare employee, Jason Tegge was convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a child, a felony, in 2004 for having sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 20, according to court records. He was sentenced to five years of probation and must remain registered as sex offender for the rest of his life.
Woods said Country Healthcare has not violated any laws by employing Jason Tegge.
While investigating Longview Terrace I last fall, inspectors noted issues that stemmed from the facility's small staff, a lack of clear guidance from management and insufficient training to handle the severe needs of clients.
Longview Terrace I had two employees working during normal daytime business hours and only one employee on evening and overnight shifts to care for 13 residents, according to the records.
Inspectors found staff sometimes lost track of residents and were forced to cut corners, placing themselves and residents in dangerous situations.
Residents told inspectors they soiled their clothes because staff didn't have time to help them use the bathroom. Some were made to wear two adult diapers at the same time so they could be changed less frequently. Another resident reported having the cords of her call light cut off because she used them too much. She said she fell once and screamed at least 20 minutes before help arrived.
Inspectors also reported a Sept. 15 incident in which a caregiver working alone in the evening was attacked by a 44-year-old resident who refused to leave another resident's room. The man hit the caregiver and broke her glasses before grabbing her hair in attempt to slam her head into the wall. A female resident intervened by attacking the man with a cane and scratching his face and drawing blood before calling 911.
"I think every provider goes into this business with the very best intentions, but somewhere along the way, whether it's because they can't engage good staff or aren't financially viable, the facilities often don't provide enough resources for staff to do their job," said ombudsman Kim Marheine, the statewide supervisor for the resident advocacy program.
"And if they also don't have the right management and leadership, then their regulatory noncompliance keeps on going," she said.
Eric Carlson, directing attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, said struggling facilities often begin admitting residents they're ill-equipped to care for out of desperation to fill beds.
"If you have a situation where there's poor services and, on top of that, abuse, it's really a horrific state of affairs," he said. "These are folks who are very dependent. Ideally, they are getting necessary assistance and are getting the ability to live a good quality of life."
"But it sounds like that promise was far from reality in this case."