County-owned nursing home may be investigated

At their bi-weekly meeting July 14, Winnebago County Board members listened to abuse allegations leveled by former River Bluff Nursing Home Admissions Coordinator Diane Bergquist. Her allegations were met with applause by supporters in the audience, and calls by at least three County Board members for an investigation by authorities.

Bergquist’s three-minute presentation to the full County Board was a synopsis of her accusations that were originally published in a guest column in the July 6-12 issue of The Rock River Times. The guest column follows an April 2003 series of investigative articles by Assistant Editor Brandon Reid that supports Bergquist’s claims.

Other print, television and radio media extensively covered Bergquist’s allegations, which included insufficient numbers of personnel, intimidation of residents who complained about conditions or treatment and “cover-ups” of abuse reports by River Bluff employees.

Phyllis Schwebke, administrator for River Bluff, did not return messages for comment.

Winnebago County Board member W. Timothy Simms (R-14) called for County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen to ask whether the State’s Attorney’s office should investigate abuse allegations. Board member Gary Jury (R-3) concurred with Simms, and gave his own testimonial about how his brother was rejected from treatment at the facility, but was accepted at a different nursing home.

River Bluff is currently fighting a 2001 wrongful death lawsuit that was filed by Lisa A. Johnson on behalf of Rita A. Tinkham, a former River Bluff resident. The 12-point lawsuit alleges Winnebago County and River Bluff failed to properly address issues concerning Tinkham’s fall from a wheelchair on March 22, 2001.

David F. Monteleone of the Rockford law firm Schirger, Monteleone and Hampilos, P.C., alleged that as a result of the fall, Tinkham “developed complications associated with [a] hip fracture, which led to her death on July 4, 2001.”

Monteleone added that the lawsuit is still in the deposition phase. “They’ve been stonewalling us on having the pathologist deposed for testimony,” Monteleone said.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Bill Emmert, Winnebago County assistant state’s attorney, said: “I really can’t comment, other than the suit is pending, and we’re contesting the allegations.”

A question unanswered is if the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office is called to investigate the abuse allegations, can investigators objectively carry out that duty while defending the same institution in a wrongful death lawsuit?

From the July 20-26, 2005, issue

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