Old-Age Wisdom

The state told Virginia Fraser to shut up, but she won't give up on the elderly.

The manager then escorted the two women to the front door.

This experience was similar to several confrontations at the Boulder Meridian in the summer of 1999, when two ombudsmen were accused of coming to the facility in order to "plant" complaints and were told to leave.

Last August, the state human services department -- which contracts with the ombudsman's office -- notified Meridian that it was preparing to fine the company $2,500 for barring the ombudsmen from entering the Boulder facility. Trish Nagel accused the ombudsman's office of a pattern of "harassment and intimidation" and reportedly placed a call to the governor's office. In October, she met with the governor's attorney, Troy Eid, Attorney General Ken Salazar and Deputy Attorney General Barbara McDonnell, and threatened to sue the state over the proposed fine.

Virginia Fraser recently resigned her position as director of the state ombudsman's office after twenty years.
Anthony Camera
Virginia Fraser recently resigned her position as director of the state ombudsman's office after twenty years.
Senator Sue Windels of Arvada was willing to take on Meridian in the legislature.
Anthony Camera
Senator Sue Windels of Arvada was willing to take on Meridian in the legislature.

Human Services director Marva Hammons later rescinded the fine, with a warning that Meridian would be fined if it again barred ombudsmen from trying to enter one of the company's facilities.

But that was exactly what happened this past March at the Lakewood Meridian, so in April, the human services department again notified Meridian that it would be fined $2,500. This time, Trish Nagel sent a response insisting that state law did not permit the ombudsmen to enter a facility that doesn't accept government funding; she also suggested that even if the state law did cover such facilities, it would be unconstitutional.

Meridian is appealing the fine, and a hearing on the matter will be set later this month.

Nagel insists there is no good reason for the ombudsmen to be in its facilities.

"The quality of life and the satisfaction of residents is readily apparent to anyone who visits a Meridian community," Nagel said in her written statement to Westword. "Why would the ombudsman spend precious time and resources at communities known for outstanding care when the ombudsman reported over 12,000 resident care complaints at other facilities? The ombudsman's resources should be spent where they are obviously needed -- at facilities where the ombudsman has reported complaints about such serious resident care issues as abuse, neglect, odors, infestations, pressure sores and other signs of poor resident care and mistreatment. In wasting time and resources in this way, the ombudsman has lost sight of the people they are responsible to serve -- the socially and economically disadvantaged senior citizens who reside in government-funded facilities."

Others see this strong defense differently.

"The Nagels are a very powerful and influential couple in Colorado," says Mary Reilly, western regional director of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. "They are so anti-regulation. They don't think anybody should have the ability to come into their operation."

And Trish Nagel, a practicing attorney, hasn't hesitated to use the courts to take on those who criticize their operation. When Westword requested information for this story, Ralph Nagel responded with a letter that pointed out problems in Rocky Mountain News coverage this spring "which necessitated that newspaper printing a retraction and taking other action to ameliorate the damage caused by that coverage. Certainly," he continued, "we want to avoid a repeat occurrence with the Westword article in the interest, not only of Meridians, but also in the interest of not having older adults and their families unfairly frightened by the publication of reckless or unsubstantiated statements and accusations."

Jerry Ritchie, a disabled tenants'-rights activist, was sued in 1995 by Meridian in connection with the "Renter's Hotline" that he operated. At one point, Ritchie had called consumer advocate Tom Martino and talked on his radio show about complaints he'd received from former Meridian residents.

That was enough to spur the Nagels into action. They hired private investigator John Corsentino, who called Ritchie's hotline and pretended to be a son looking for long-term care for his elderly mother; he told Ritchie the family was considering the Lakewood Meridian. (A transcript of the telephone call, which Corsentino secretly taped, wound up in the court file.)

"The last contracts of theirs that I saw on independent living take your rights away," Ritchie told Corsentino, adding that he'd gotten several calls from people who were mad at Meridian, including one man who said his parents had died and the company was demanding three months' rent because no advance notice had been given. "Meridian I wouldn't do business with," Ritchie continued. "From my point of view, as far as I'm concerned, and any records and anything that I've seen, and the track record that I know about Meridian, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

In the lawsuit, Meridian accused Ritchie of slander, interference with contractual relations and civil conspiracy. The company asked the court for an injunction that would prevent Ritchie from "communicating to any third person any false and inaccurate statements" about Meridian. Ritchie was served with the lawsuit papers while hospitalized with pneumonia.

In 1996, a lawyer arrived at Ritchie's small apartment to take a deposition in the case. She introduced herself as an attorney with Moye, Giles, O'Keefe, Vermeire & Gorrell, the firm that represented Meridian. Her name was Trish Nagel ("Nursing a Grudge," January 7, 1999).

As part of the lawsuit, Meridian subpoenaed several staffers in the ombudsman's program and even tried to obtain copies of the confidential complaints against the company that had been filed with that office.

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