Foster care provider names county in lawsuit

Lynn Bruce, owner/operator of Mosier Creek Adult Foster Care, has filed a $290,000 lawsuit against the "illegal" management practices of the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments (MCCOG).

That claim has been termed "just and fair" by Hood River senior advocate Rachel Shields. Last summer Shields protested MCCOG's "abusive" actions against Bruce by resigning from the agency's Senior Services Advisory Council and from almost eight years as the county's Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

"I felt she was being mistreated and it was my obligation to step in against a government agency that was overlording and doing things contrary to the rules," said Shields.

Hood River County, which has two seats on the 12-member MCCOG board of directors, has been named in the legal action initiated by Bruce's attorney, Dennis V. Messoline of Salem. His documentation alleges that no effort was made by MCCOG officials to stop the illegal investigation during the spring of 2000 which caused Bruce to lose her livelihood. Codefendants in that case are representatives from Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler counties and MCCOG's registered non-profit Four Rivers Community Corporation.

"All defendants had a common duty to plaintiff (Bruce) to act competently and reasonably in regulating her care home activities," stated the legal brief filed by Messoline in Wasco County on Oct. 9.

Neither Bruce nor Messoline would comment personally on the pending litigation.

Two weeks ago, MCCOG's insurance carrier hired the legal help of Portland attorney Michael Lehner to represent its interests. On Monday, Lehner said he had not yet filed a response to the allegations made by Bruce because he was in the process of reviewing her charges and working out technical issues on the case with Messoline.

Bruce contends that MCCOG stopped her intake of patients in October of 1999 without performing a "complete and proper" investigation of two complaints filed against her by a patient's daughter. She also alleges that evidence was hidden during that review and that witnesses in her defense were intentionally not interviewed.

In August of 2000 Bruce was completely exonerated by an independent state investigation from more than 20 complaints, lodged against her by MCCOG's senior programs division. The division was under the direction of Daliea Thompson, who abruptly left the agency in early October.

However, Bruce asserts that MCCOG officials continued to cast aspersions upon her character even when they were told to "cease and desist." Both she and Shields said they repeatedly notified John Arens, MCCOG executive director, and agency board members about the ongoing problems but no effort was made to remedy the situation.

Because of that inaction, Bruce said her business was "destroyed" and, to date, she has lost $85,000 in wages. She is also seeking $5,000 in compensation and $200,000 for the loss of her reputation and the mental suffering and pain brought by MCCOG's management practices.

From the onset, Bruce contended that her treatment at the hands of Thompson and two of her program managers was in "retaliation" for a written complaint she made two years earlier when her business license was not renewed by the agency for eight months after it was paid.

The investigation against her was launched in September of 1999 when a patient's daughter accused Bruce of neglect. Shields entered the picture when family members of residents in the Mosier foster home began to protest the rigorous questioning by MCCOG workers because of the toll it was taking on their relatives' fragile mental and physical health.

Shields was able to get the almost daily visits stopped after issuing a written protest to the advisory council over that treatment.

"In all my seven years (as an ombudsman) I have never seen such an acrimonious, aggressive investigation conducted against an adult foster home," said Shields in that Feb. 28, 2000 statement.

Throughout the ordeal, Bruce was supported by other adult foster care home providers, 20 of whom signed a letter on her behalf that was presented to state officials. Twenty-eight supporters also appeared in person to testify at the second of two informal state hearings in March of 2000.

During that same month, 17 of the 18 state-contracted elder care case managers and support staff working under Thompson filed a formal complaint about Thompson's management style through their union. They raised fears of retribution/retaliation for expressing an opposing opinion with administrators, public humiliation during disciplinary reprimands, inconsistent policy making, and being controlled through job loss threats. The management of these employees was returned back to the state in May.

Thompson's split from MCCOG on Oct. 5 followed the dismissal of sexual harassment and discrimination based on sex claims that she filed with the Bureau of Labor & Industries last fall against Arens. These claims were dropped due to insufficient evidence.

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