Good Sam Society’s leaders speak on situation

Published 5:03 pm Saturday, December 6, 2008

It was one hectic week for the staff at the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea, and it seems the staff has been handling it with patience.

“It’s been the longest week of my life,” said Administrator Mark Anderson.

He said he has fielded calls from NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, The Associated Press, “Inside Edition,” “Dr. Phil,” all the local TV stations, some Twin Cities TV stations, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and, of course, the Albert Lea Tribune.

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He said the staff even gets on-the-air calls from radio shows. The show hosts try to get anyone to respond so they can lampoon them for the radio audience. The story about allegations of elder abuse by former female teenage employees has circulated the globe. Good Sam even gets e-mail messages and calls from people who have read or heard of the story and want to vent.

“We try to listen to the calls. We know that they are where we were in May, in shock and disbelief. We allow people to express their frustration,” he said.

As for the radio shows, Anderson said the employee taking the call simply listens to the pitch, then politely declines to speak.

Renae Peterson, the director of nursing, said she received a call from a woman sitting at a Starbucks in Los Angeles.

“After she vented, I said, “Thank you for calling.’” The two then discussed how venting helps get over the initial news of elder abuse. The woman caller ended up thinking highly of Good Sam.

“At the end of the conversation she said, ‘Keep your chin up and keep fighting the good fight,” Peterson said.

Two of the former employees now face gross misdemeanor charges and four others face juvenile charges.

Anderson said he can’t speak on issues regarding the defendants or about the victims, but he does want to respond to some of the questions being asked by members of the Albert Lea community. Some of those questions are about the hiring process at Good Sam.

In any job, employers, he said, can screen job candidates but they can’t always predict the future behavior of the employees. He said nursing homes are “a human industry” in that they require a lot of trust in other people.

“Every day we have to make personal choices in our lives,” he said.

Anderson and Peterson said the Good Sam hiring process follows federal and state regulations and it includes a background check. There is training on respect, privacy, confidentiality, personal attention, job duties, care and, indeed, vulnerable adults. The nursing home has an orientation period for new workers, the length of which is determined by job performance. Certified nursing assistants also must pass a 75-hour class. There is mandatory training regarding the Vulnerable Adults Act.

Peterson said new workers receive 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-day evaluations. She said nurses work to keep channels of communication open every day on the job and the system has been reliable.

In fact, Peterson and Anderson point out that the Minnesota Department of Health report released on August on the alleged elder abuse that took place between January and May commended the Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea for taking swift action. The report stated the license for Good Sam in Albert Lea would not be revoked because of the corrective actions made early on by the nursing home administrators.

The Department of Health report found fault with four nursing assistants and exonerated the Good Samaritan Society.

Anderson said actions of Good Sam show the allegations are taken very seriously. Peterson added that when she made the big telephone call to the state Department of Health to tell them about the hard-to-believe alleged actions of a group of teenage nursing assistants ages 17 and 18 she knew it was going have impact in the news nationwide.

“What does that get you? That gets you in deeper trouble, but we make the call. It’s our job,” Anderson added. “Nothing is being swept under the rug.”

Anderson said he and his staff are learning much from the situation, particularly a lot about the national news media, but also they found their internal protocol for handling staff reports of abuse indeed works.

He said another nursing home in Albert Lea wishes to learn how Good Sam handled the situation so it can implement similar procedures.

Peterson said the Good Samaritan Society has received strong support from the regional Good Samaritan office in Sioux Falls, S.D. It sent a team of professionals to Albert Lea to assist with the situation.

“When something like this occurs, it takes a lot of people,” she said.

Some people have called for Anderson to resign.

Peterson said Anderson is quick to own his mistakes and accept responsibility. She said he is the best boss she has ever had and deserves credit for the quality of the Good Sam nursing home.

Anderson said he feels good that he took the right steps in light of the horrific allegations.

“The required systems to prevent abuse were in place prior to this incident. The Minnesota Department of Health and our local law enforcement agencies concur this finding through their investigation. Our center’s investigation and follow up of the incident was commended by the Minnesota Department of Health,” he said. “I am proud of our leadership team and my co-worker’s dedication to quality and professionalism, not only through this investigation but also in their daily work.”

By February, Anderson will have been at Good Sam of Albert Lea for 10 years and Peterson will have been there for 19 years.

Anderson said Albert Lea residents have been particularly supportive. There had been a period when Good Sam workers were too embarrassed to wear their name tags in public. People quizzed them but for months they could not speak about the situation because of the investigations.

While more of the world outside the Albert Lea community is first learning about the allegations of elder abuse, Albert Lea area residents are past the initial shock and Good Sam workers can be proud that their workplace handled the difficult situation properly, Anderson said.

He said he feels locals understand the allegations of elder abuse is not reflective of the Good Sam staff members still working there. He said no residents have left as a result of the situation.

“We appreciate the outpouring of support we have received, whether it was at the grocery store or the mall or out getting gas,” he said.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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