Valley View Home settles assault case

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The management company that operates Valley View Home for Blair County has agreed to a $125,000 settlement that stemmed from an alleged assault of an elderly patient in 2009 by a worker, according to an order issued this week by Judge Elizabeth Doyle.

The patient, Christine Welshans, 77, died two weeks after the incident, which left her with a badly bruised eye and marks on her neck.

Welshans was a resident of Valley View since Aug. 23, 2007, and had many physical problems. But, Doyle wrote in her order, Welshans was “compliant, conversant, communicative, pleasant, cooperative, and able to interact well with the staff and her family up until Aug. 17, 2009.”

On the night of Aug. 16 or early morning of Aug. 17, 2009, Welshans was “the victim of an assault in which she was pummelled in the face and nearly strangled,” according to court documents.

Following the incident she became agitated and stated someone hit her and she did not know why, Doyle reported.

Welshans’ health deteriorated and she died on Sept. 1, 2009, which led to a city police investigation.

According to court documents, there were two assaults of elderly patients the night Welshans was assaulted. While no one witnessed the assault of Welshans, there was a witness to another incident in which a certified nurse’s aide used the elderly woman’s robe to pin her arms.

The aide was suspended and eventually charged with assault by city police. The charges were dismissed at a preliminary hearing.

The lawsuit said the aide had also assaulted Welshans, but police closed the investigation after Blair County Coroner Patty Ross ruled her death was “heart-related.”

Altoona attorney Douglas Stoehr was approached by Welshans’ daughter, Shirley M. Imler of Altoona. He said he agreed to take the case to court because, “No question, I believed she was attacked.”

He filed a lawsuit naming Affinity Health Services Inc., of Indiana, Pa., and the director of Valley View, Chris W. Dear, an Affinity employee.

The lawsuit contended that Affinity was at fault for hiring the nurse’s aide because she had a history of patient abuse at another nursing home in Altoona.

The company contended that Welshans was not assaulted but rather that she was frail and bruised easily. The company also noted the Pennsylvania Department of Health found the allegations of assault were “not substantiated.”

The company stated that the victim suffered a bout of pneumonia three days after the alleged assault and that led to her decline in health.

A city police report, prepared by Detective Ashley Day, stated Welshans had bruising and dried blood on her right cheeks and a bruise on the right side of her chin and around her right eye.

The aide who was suspected of injuring Welshans denied it in a voice stress test administered by police. However, the officer who administered the test, now Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, said, “Based upon my training and experience, I am of the opinion that the subject did not answer the relevant questions truthfully.”

However, after Ross’ investigation declaring death due to heart problems, the city police closed the case.

Doyle approved the settlement on Monday and also issued an opinion stating that after attorney fees and expenses, 70 percent of the money would go to the family’s wrongful death claim and 30 percent to a survival action.

According to the figures outlined in the settlement agreement and the judge’s order, it means the family – Welshans’ five children – will receive about $51,000, with the Welfare Department receiving $21,000.

An inheritance tax also must be paid to the state Department of Revenue.

Attempts to talk to the Harrisburg attorney for Affinity Health Service, Christopher Lucas, were unsuccessful.

Welshans was a retired registered nurse, having worked in the profession for 40 years.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.