Gerald Propp Suit: Facility Didn't Report Other Assaults on Alzheimer's Patients

Update below: Last year's fatal beating death of 76-year-old Gerald Propp in a Lakewood assisted living facility, at the hands of Homer Castor, his 87-year-old roommate and fellow Alzheimer's patient, raised uncomfortable questions about  the safety and supervision of institutions that claim to excel in providing specialized care for people suffering from dementia.

And, as Propp's family members learn more about the circumstances of his death, the questions have become even more disturbing.

An amended complaint filed this week in the family's lawsuit against Atria Senior Living, which operates a range of senior living and "memory care" facilities in 28 states, claims that the company has a history of attempting to conceal resident assaults on other residents from state regulators and law enforcement; failed to properly address Castor's increasingly violent behavior toward Propp and other residents; and delayed summoning outside medical help for Propp after discovering him in his bed, covered with blood.

Although Atria claims to have the highest quality standard in the booming geriatric-care industry, the lawsuit contends that Atria Park of Applewood, where Propp lived in a "secure unit," "failed to provide care that met industry standards, let alone care that was higher than industry standards."

According to the complaint, Propp's spouse visited around twenty facilities specializing in dementia patients before placing him  at Atria, which charged $6,000 a month for Propp's care.

Several months later, toward the end of 2014, Homer Castor also became a patient there, despite having exhibited "destructive and potentially dangerous physical behaviors" at prior placements. 

The complaint, filed on behalf of Propp's widow,  Catherine Greway, indicates that Castor had a habit of wandering into other residents' rooms and taking their belongings; one resident who felt threatened by Castor wanted staff to call the police, but no documentation survives of the incident. There were also at least two prior attacks by Castor on Propp, including one that left Propp with scratches and redness on his neck. But Atria's executive director later told a state investigator that the incident was not regarded as one of "resident-on-resident abuse" — and was not reported to authorities.

Two weeks later, caregivers discovered Propp bloodied and beaten in his bed. Instead of immediately calling 911, the suit alleges, staffers delayed for more than half an hour before calling Pridemark, an ambulance company; a Pridemark employee reported the assault to the Lakewood Police Department. 

Castor admitted beating Propp. Charged with homicide but deemed incompetent to stand trial, Castor died last November.

The lawsuit also claims that after Propp's death, another resident suffered an attack that required a hospital trip, but Atria staff "avoided notifying the police of this later assault."

"There's a Colorado statute that requires caregivers to report instances of abuse, and that includes resident-on-resident assault," notes Jerome Reinan, Greway's attorney. "There appears to be an emerging pattern of not reporting these incidents — not to police, family members, the health department or to physicians." 

Update 12:55 P.M.: We received the following statement from Atria Senior Living in response to a request for comment on the Propp lawsuit allegations:

"Mr. Propp’s death was tragic, and we continue to offer our condolences to the Propp family and all those affected by his passing. While we can’t comment on the details of the pending lawsuit, the allegation that Atria attempted to cover-up this incident—or any other incident—is simply untrue. We plan to respond accordingly.

"Ensuring the health and wellbeing of everyone who lives and works in our communities is our highest priority. We are committed to providing vibrant, comfortable and safe living environments for each of the 21,000 residents who call Atria home. To this end, we have a number of safety and security protocols in place to ensure the protection of everyone in our community. We also maintain round-the-clock staff on site, including those who work overnight shifts and check in on residents at time intervals dictated by their care plan."
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast