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New charges leveled against now-shuttered Hill City nursing facility

More than 40 former staff members and residents of Chappy’s Golden Shores, as well as supporters of the closed facility, gathered in Hill City earlier this year. 2019 file / News Tribune

More than five months after it was shut down and almost three months after its license was revoked, a Hill City nursing facility is facing additional allegations from a state agency.

Minnesota Department of Health special investigators determined emotional abuse occurred regarding two clients at Chappy's Golden Shores, which officials ordered closed on Dec. 6 on the basis of numerous maltreatment findings. Its license was revoked Feb. 20.

The health department posted the investigations on its website on Tuesday, but the reports were concluded on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 based on six different visits to the facility in November.

According to the reports, the "alleged perpetrators" denied all of the accusations. Chappy's lawyer, Jason Steck, couldn't be reached in time for this story. He and the nursing facility's officials have consistently denied all of the allegations. They've appealed the state findings and also filed a lawsuit against the health department and the two investigators. That lawsuit was dismissed, but Steck said it will be brought back if Chappy's loses its appeal of the state actions.

In the latest findings, investigators Darin Hatch and Amy Hyers reported:

• A client was verbally abused and bribed with money and goods to remain in the facility.

• In an attempt to prevent a client from moving, he was told he would not be allowed to move his cat with him to another facility.

The latter incident has been mentioned previously. Steck has argued that the cat belonged to the facility, not the resident. "It was a facility cat that the resident really liked," Steck said.

He said that when the facility was raided on Dec. 6, investigators handed a cat to the resident — but it was the wrong cat.

But the investigative report states the cat was given to the client when he moved in, and then a staff member "frequently threatened to take away his cat and kill the cat if he reported the abuse to the state or to the police."

The same client reported several incidents of abuse, some of which have been detailed previously. He said a staff member tripped him, pushed him down and called him a derogatory name while threatening to kill his cat; and that another staff member hit him on the head with a frying pan.

The investigative report said that members of the client's support and care team members from the community and review of the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center "confirmed the client's reports of threatening and manipulative behaviors by staff members," and that those interviewed "believed the client was more likely than not abused."

The latest allegations follow a previous report, concluded on April 29, based on a visit to the facility on New Year's Eve, while Chappy's was officially shut down and its license suspended. In that report, special investigator Earl Bakke found that clients' rights were violated when they were allowed to move back to the facility and found that clients who returned were neglected and financially exploited.

In a statement, the Health Department said it can't prevent residents from returning to Chappy's.

"We will continue to work to ensure the safety of the vulnerable adults who had received services there," it said. "However, current law limits the state's ability to regulate the housing component of Chappy's, and we did not have the regulatory tools necessary to prevent the residents from returning."

It doesn't appear that criminal charges have been filed in relation to the Chappy's investigation. Aitkin County Attorney Jim Ratz hasn't returned repeated phone calls about the matter, but none of the plaintiffs in the civil case appear as defendants in criminal cases, according to state court records.

However, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported last week that Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida knew of at least five criminal investigations associated with Chappy's.

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