Foster caregiver’s settlement brings warning about MCCOG

An advocate for senior citizens has asked the Hood River County Commission to keep a close watch on managers at the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments.

Rachel Shields made that request last week after briefing the elected body on the monetary settlement paid by MCCOG to Lynn Bruce, the owner/operator of Mosier Creek Adult Foster Care. This summer Bruce was awarded $58,000 for actions taken against her by staffers from The Dalles office.

“I am very pleased to have my good name restored and to have been compensated for my monetary losses,” said Bruce.

Now that her lawsuit has finally been settled, Bruce has appealed to the state to expunge her records of the unfounded allegations. She said there should be a change in the standing practice of retaining all charges against a provider even if they are unsubstantiated. Otherwise, she said fraudulent or erroneous complaints are allowed to damage the caregiver’s reputation and/or ability to earn a living.

Shields told both the county and MCCOG boards that it was a “dirty rotten shame” that Bruce had been put through almost a four-year ordeal. She said a situation that should have been easily remedied had escalated into a lawsuit because of “inaction” by MCCOG Director John Arens. Shields said the lead MCCOG official had failed to intervene in the ongoing problems generated by Daliea Thompson, former manager of the Senior and Disabled Services Division. In the fall of 2001 Thompson abruptly stepped down from her post but officials from MCCOG would not confirm whether she was fired or left voluntarily.

“All those responsible should be watched carefully so that they are not allowed to do this again. I hope Ms. Bruce’s actions will be an inspiration to others, showing that a person can still stand up to a corrupt government,” said Shields.

Without admitting wrongdoing, MCCOG agreed to pay Bruce for lost wages stemming from a shutdown of her business during a controversial investigation in 1999. Bruce filed her lawsuit after being cleared in 2000 of numerous abuse and misconduct charges following a formal state review by SDSD official Bonnie Salle. The final report issued by Salle determined that Thompson and her staffers had illegally closed Bruce’s door to new clients during a poorly conducted investigation that had failed to reveal a threat to the residents.

Arens was unable to be reached for comment about any changes in MCCOG management practices or the pay out on the Bruce case.

Shields, a former ombudsman for long-term care, began to campaign for MCCOG reforms after personally witnessing the treatment of Bruce. Because of her outspoken stand she was first suspended from her duties in the late summer 2000 and then decided to resign in protest so that she could speak freely.

She became involved in the case after being contacted by family members of several patients housed in the adult foster care home run by Bruce. Those complaints centered on the stress created by SDSD investigators in reaction to a complaint filed by a client’s relative. Shields said she found a “horror story” unfolding that involved relentless questioning of patients that were in fragile physical and mental health. When that treatment continued for weeks, she issued a written protest to MCCOG’s Senior Services Advisory Council.

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 filed two years earlier. At that time her business license was not renewed by the agency for eight months after it was paid.

During the official state investigation, Bruce was given two informal hearings and told at one point that SDSD had compiled more than 20 charges against her that she stated were unsubstantiated. Throughout the ordeal, she was supported by other adult foster providers, 28 of whom appeared in person to testify on her behalf. Although charges would be dropped and then later resurface, something Bruce said was very confusing, eventually the state ended up with only one official complaint that officials felt merited any attention — that Bruce had given a resident less than 30 days notice for eviction. Eventually, even that charge and the attached $250 penalty was also rescinded.

On another MCCOG front, workers in the employment and transportation services voted late this spring to unionize so that they could stop “inconsistent and unfair treatment by management.” A spokeperson from the Service Employees International Union Local 503 said the employees believed the “adverse” working conditions were negatively affecting performance. MCCOG channels federal and state government funding to Hood River and other counties.

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