SPRINGFIELD | A chain of long-term care homes owned by one of Republican Bruce Rauner's former companies has faced lawsuits and critical state inspections stemming from the death and mistreatment of residents.
At a time when the wealthy political newcomer says he would run Illinois like a business if he wins the race for governor, a review of court records and inspection reports shows American Habilitation Services was put under the legal and regulatory microscope in a handful of states in connection with fatalities and unfit living conditions.
Among the problems outlined in court cases, state records and multiple media reports are the deaths of developmentally disabled residents in bathtubs, "deplorable" living conditions, sexual assaults and a failure by employees to stop residents from harming themselves.
The problems at the company are similar to those outlined in a series of reports that emerged during the March primary election about a Rauner-connected chain of nursing homes.
Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said the millionaire businessman from Winnetka was not involved in the day-to-day management of the company.
"Bruce was not on the board at AHS and had nothing to do with its operations," Schrimpf said.
Rauner, however, was serving as the chairman of GTCR, a private equity firm, when it launched AHS in 1996 as a for-profit company that would provide care and housing for developmentally disabled residents.
With Rauner at the helm of GTCR, two of his GTCR colleagues — Bryan Cressey and Donald Edwards — were placed on the AHS board of directors with an eye on making a profit for GTCR by caring for residents who were covered by Medicare.
Records show significant problems occurred at some of the homes.
At the Thomas Care Center in Houston, the state was forced to take over the facility following the March 2005 death of an 11-year-old resident.
A lawsuit filed in connection with the case alleged that resident Xavier Alexander Hegwood was "viciously attacked" by an older resident in the playroom. He hit his head on a table, went into cardiac arrest and later died.
The Texas attorney general's office filed a lawsuit in an attempt to wrest control of the facility from AHS. Among the problems found by surveyors were transfers of residents from the facility.
In one instance in 2005, a recently transferred resident was found unconscious and lying on the floor in the bedroom of her new home. Records show she was not breathing, had no heart rate and was purple in color. The woman, known in court filings as "Individual #48," died.
The lawsuit says workers at the home where the resident had been transferred were not aware of her "diagnosis of congestive heart failure at the time of her admission."
"These transfers appear to be done in a manner that presents an immediate threat to the residents," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in the 2005 suit.
A separate lawsuit stemming from the 2001 death of a severely developmentally disabled woman at an AHS home in Arizona resulted in a $45.5 million judgment against the company.
In April, "Arizona Attorney" magazine called the 2004 verdict one of the biggest in the state in the previous decade. Subsequent appeals sought to lower the amount of the penalty.
In the case, Ilana Solomon, a developmentally disabled woman who had the cognitive ability of a 3- or 4-year-old, drowned in a bathtub when she was left alone for a few minutes by an AHS employee.
AHS also was sued by the Texas attorney general in 2003 for failing to protect a female resident of a home in Austin from sexual assaults by an employee.
"Not enough was done by administrators of Indian Wells House to investigate the allegations or to protect their clients," Attorney General Abbott said in a 2003 press release. "Now a 32-year-old woman has to live with the company's failure to fulfill minimum standards set forth in Texas law. Nothing will fully restore this woman's sense of security, but my office will hold these kinds of facilities accountable."
In Florida, the inspector general for the Department of Children and Families in 2004 cited the Marco Group Home operated by AHS for failing to report a sexual assault, overbilling the state by more than $7,000 and for a complaint about a lack of food at the facility.
Schrimpf said Rauner's "heart goes out to the families who were impacted."
"The type of care AHS specialized in was especially challenging, but what happened at these AHS facilities is sad and a tragedy," Schrimpf said.
After winning the four-way March primary race, Rauner trekked to Centralia to make a campaign issue out of Quinn's attempt to close the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center.
At a news conference, Rauner said Murray is a better option for families who have developmentally disabled relatives at the facility.
“It is irresponsible to close Murray Center unless we can make absolutely certain that the most vulnerable residents are being cared for in an environment that is as good as — or better than — Murray Center,” Rauner said at the April event.
Rauner, who left GTCR in 2012 when he launched his bid for governor, has made his success at making money a cornerstone of his campaign, saying in June, "I've been successful in everything I've ever done and I'm a leader."
In the case of AHS, Schrimpf said, "GTCR has invested in hundreds of companies and the vast majority have been highly successful, but unfortunately not all of them."
Quinn's campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.