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Elmhurst adult home residents get $7.4M settlement

It took nearly four years of legal tussling before the defendants - associated with the Leben Home for Adults in Elmhurst where the residents had lived and Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills where they were operated on - agreed to pay each of the 17 men $432,653 in what attorney Timothy Clune from the non-profit Disabilities Advocates called "the largest settlement he has seen of its kind.""They will now have money in their hands so they can improve the quality of their lives," said Clune, a longtime promoter for better resident care in adult homes and one of the residents' attorneys.According to The New York Times, a state inquiry found that the invasive operations occurred in 1998 as part of a scheme to generate thousands of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare fees by coercing 24 Leben residents of the 361-bed Leben home to endure "assembly-line techniques to mass-produce surgery." A complaint later filed in 2001 on behalf of the residents claimed that the scheme involved health care professionals herding the Leben group, too mentally ill to fully comprehend what was happening, to Parkway Hospital where they were operated on in order to "reap profits" in the form of government fees. Seven of the original 24 residents later chose not to join the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan against the adult home and the hospital.Although Clune said the plaintiffs were pleased with the overall results - which along with the private settlement included $32,000 in fines for Parkway Hospital and revoked/suspended licenses for two of its surgeons issued in 2001 by the State Health Department - the case remained open.An amended lawsuit is against a group connected to the home-care agency Americare, which had employees working at the Leben home when the surgeries occurred in 1998, the complaint said.An official complaint claims that Americare, which oversaw most of Leben's health care, "facilitated the execution of consent forms that were not informed..." as well as the "unnecessary surgery" inflicted on the group of mentally ill residents. Along with the company, Americare CEO Martin Kleinman and employee Diane Ahearn were also defendants.Attorney Glen Feinberg, who represents Americare, had a different view. "The surgeries were performed by doctors after recommendations from other doctors," he said. "Americare provides unskilled care to residents and is not in the position to determine if surgery is necessary or not. It's not our job to oversee doctors, it's doctors' job to oversee us." As for Americare workers persuading uninformed residents to sign consent forms, Feinberg said "that was simply untrue."A settlement appeared unlikely, according to both sides.Confident in a jury decision, Clune said he was pushing for January 2005 as a trial date.In addition, Clune has a pending lawsuit against the state of New York for what he generalized as "adult care facilities' inability to care for mentally ill residents." Although in its beginning stages, the suit against 26 of New York's largest adult homes could be a major step toward overhauling the adult home system.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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