A Georgia jury has returned a $43.5 million verdict against a nursing home operator in a wrongful death lawsuit. The verdict was in favor of the estate of a man who died as the result of negligent care. The nursing facility located in Rome, Georgia, had been cited for repeated state and federal violations. The verdict against George D. Houser, the operator of the nursing home, is believed to be among the highest in state history against a nursing home operator. Prior to the trial, Houser filed for bankruptcy protection, listing total assets of between $20 million and $100 million.
Houser, who operated Forum Group Corp. and its subsidiary, Forum Group at Moran Lake Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Rome, faces federal charges filed in April in which he is accused of bilking the Medicare and Medicaid programs of more than $30 million. According to the federal indictment – in which his wife is also charged – those Medicare and Medicaid payments were supposed to go toward care of residents at Houser’s three nursing homes. Instead, federal prosecutors allege the Housers funneled the money to purchase luxury cars and real estate, including a $1.3 million Atlanta home for George Houser’s ex-wife.
Loretta Terhune, whose 80-year-old father, Morris Ellison, died on April 17, 2007, charged that the nursing home failed to provide adequate care. Her father, who was admitted to the facility a year earlier, fell numerous times, breaking his hip in one instance, according to the lawsuit. The nursing home also failed to notify the resident’s doctors or family of his injuries.
It appears that Houser, through his companies, systematically drained the money and resources from his nursing homes. There were also all sorts of shortages of food, water, medicine, and basic supplies. It appears the resident was severely neglected at the time of his death. He was malnourished and severely dehydrated.
Over a period of several years, the Georgia Department of Human Resources’ Office of Regulatory Services conducted numerous inspections of the facility. The agency closed it and terminated all federal funding after a May 23, 2007, inspection found that “Moran Lake’s deficiencies constituted violations of state and federal regulations, nursing home regulations, Georgia state health regulations, and National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code Standards.” Two Georgia lawyers, Steve Lowry from Savannah and Mike Prieto whose practice is in Cartersville, represented the resident’s family. They did a very good job.