9 Investigates

Nursing home faces lawsuits after employee pleads guilty to sexually assaulting patient

INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. — An Indian Trail nursing home is under the microscope after one of its employees admitted to sexually assaulting a patient last year. Now, other families claim their loved ones were targeted as well.

"I had a right to know that my mom was not safe. That Steven was there, and that he was a sexual predator," Annette Foster said. Her mother, Maria Stamp, was a resident of Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The sexual predator she is talking about is Douglas Steven Little.

(Douglas Steven Little)

For more than a decade, Little worked at Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, In January 2016, nurses saw him sexually assaulting an elderly dementia patient. He pleaded guilty to the sexual assault and is now serving 19 years in prison.

Watch Part 2 of John Paul's investigation below.

Foster believes her mother Maria was also sexually assaulted by Little at Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Her mother lived at the facility for two years until she died.

"I believe that, based on the evidence and the medical records, that he assaulted her," said Foster. "She was assaulted."

Foster's claims are detailed in a lawsuit she filed against the facility.

It states her mother's behavior changed soon after she was admitted to the facility's dementia unit.

She became anxious and fearful, developed a strong preference for female staff and even started blocking the door to her room.

Foster said she requested that only female employees care for her mother. But she said she still saw Little in the section for dementia patients.

"I would ask him, 'Why are you on the unit?' and he would say, ‘Somebody called out,’" Foster said. "It would be just like you bringing in a pedophile to a child's unit. Why would you do that?"

Her lawsuit filed in Union County claims her mother suffered:

  • Untimely death
  • Malnutrition
  • Repeated sexual assaults

According to the suit, Foster's mother claimed she was raped on two separate occasions. Foster believes, based on his record, that Little was the culprit.

We uncovered a 2002 warrant against Little for indecent liberties with a child in Union County. It was later dropped because the witness failed to appear in court.

As part of Foster's lawsuit, her attorney obtained an affidavit from a former nurse at Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center that claims administrators knew about sexual assault allegations against Little back in 2012.

[READ: Annette Foster's lawsuit]

The affidavit states Little was suspended at least three times for allegedly sexually assaulting patients, but the allegations were not sustained by the nursing home.

Channel 9 anchor John Paul went to the nursing home after our phone calls there were not answered. John Paul was told to email the nurse administrator. So far, he has not gotten a response.

Channel 9 learned that the Union County Sheriff's Office plans to collect more information from Annette Foster and launch an investigation.

"A nursing home is only as good as the employees working there. That is the front line of defense," said Jacques Balette, the attorney bringing two lawsuits against the facility.

Balette insisted the hiring practices at Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and its parent companies are to blame.

Channel 9 learned that Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and its parent companies, Principle Long Term Care and Principle IT, received what are known as Work Opportunity Tax Credits.

The federal government provides those tax credits for hiring people who face "significant barriers to employment," including veterans and convicted felons.

Channel 9 obtained a spreadsheet from the state that lists more than 1,400 people hired by Principle for whom it received that credit.

One of them was a convicted felon hired to work maintenance at a Principle-owned nursing home in Madison, North Carolina.

Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center hired 50 people since 2012 using the tax credit. Channel 9 found no evidence that any of those were ex-felons.

Attorney Brian Alligood, who represented Principle in other suits, responded to our email about the tax credit saying, “This program is based on the thought that such persons should be allowed to return to the workforce and support their families, rather than be forever stigmatized and barred from productive lives."

Balette said the company owes it to its patients to be more careful when hiring.

"The endgame from our perspective is to change the way they do business," Balette said.

That's what Foster wants to see as well. But she said loved ones need to play a key role, even in a nursing home.

"If you find that you have to put a family member in a nursing home, you do need to become an active member in her care," Foster said.

Nursing home inspections and ratings

Nursing homes are routinely inspected by the State Division of Health Service Regulation and that information is public.

When searching the Medicare website for Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, there is yellow triangle next to the name, designating it as a “special focus facility.”

[LINK: Medicare rating for Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center]

According to the state, the designation means that the nursing home has a history of “persistent poor quality.”

Only 79 facilities in the country have that rating. Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is one of just two in North Carolina.

"Coming across a special focus facility is a big deal," Balette said.

He focuses on nursing homes and has filed a number of lawsuits against facilities across the country, including two against Lake Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Indian Trail.

The other lawsuit was filed on behalf of Janie Winchester.

Her family alleged she was sexually assaulted by Little.

[READ: Janie Winchester Complaint]

"We came in one day and he had his arm around her. Sitting in the room and the door was closed. We opened it and he was there and he says, ‘This is my sweetheart,’" said Debby Edwards, Winchester's daughter.

Balette contends that the facility's owner put profit above patient safety.

"I'm saying that they're mismanaged. I'm saying they have a choice to make. Are they going to continue to squeeze every red penny of profit out of this facility? Or will they take the money they need to spend to fix the problems and actually fix them?" Balette questioned.

"Nursing home lawsuits routinely allege that the facility at issue is or was understaffed. Rarely does the allegation have any reasonable basis," Alligood said.

Principle Long Term Care and Principle IT own more than 40 facilities in North Carolina. Nearly half of them are considered “much below average” for quality by Medicare.

Medicare ranks every facility using a 5-star system, based on inspections, staffing and quality control measures:

  • A five-star rating is the best or "well above average"
  • A one-star rating is the worst or "much below average"
  • About 20-percent of the one-star facilities are owned by Principle Long Term Care and Principle IT

[LINK: Look up Medicare rankings for nursing homes in the country]

Channel 9 uncovered a news report of a strangulation at Carolina Rivers Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jacksonville, North Carolina, which is owned by Principle.

At Richmond Pines Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Richmond County, there is a pending lawsuit that claims negligence causing death after a patient was dropped. Principle is listed as the owner.

The suit claims the patient had an unattended leg wound with insects inside it.

Another lawsuit against that facility alleges a woman's leg decomposed and eventually had to be amputated.

Channel 9 also uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines levied against the company by Medicare.

A total of $783,602 has been levied against 20 one-star rated facilities for various violations.

Families such as Maria Stamp's family have a message they want everyone to hear: If you have a loved one in a nursing home, keep a close eye on them.

"It's sad for people in their later life to end up like this. You don't want to see this happen to anybody," Foster said.