In the race for the GOP nomination for governor, a new ad paid for by unions representing government workers and educators targets front runner Bruce Rauner.
The issue: abuse and neglect in Florida nursing homes.
The connection: a company that Rauner helped found and on whose Board of Directors he once sat.
We looked at the deaths of three women in two Florida nursing homes. Their deaths have been the subject of extensive litigation, over $1 billion in judgments and allegations that have surfaced in the governor's race over a company with ties to Rauner called THI.
Juanita Jackson, Elvira Nunziata and Arlene Townsend all died after living in Florida nursing homes that, for a time, THI operated or provided support to, according to lawsuits filed by the families.
Fact: THI was co-founded in 1998 by GTCR, the Chicago investment company of which Bruce Rauner was chairman, and set out to become "one of the leading long-term care companies" in the country.
The new union-backed ad, attacking Rauner and the nursing home business, began airing this week.
The ad states: "Rauner's company was accused of draining money from nursing homes, leaving seniors to suffer…" The Rauner campaign, in a statement, called the ad "shameful" and "politics at its worst."
Fact: The families of all three women sued and in three trials, judgments were returned in their favor totaling $1.4-billion.
Fact: No defense was presented at trial. The reason according to the Rauner campaign, was that THI was bankrupt and in receivership.
Among the allegations:
- Juanita Jackson fell at the nursing home, which was operated by THI.
- That the nursing home "failed to provide a safe environment"… That she was "overmedicated."
- Six weeks after her family moved her out….she died.
- Her family claimed her death was due to "negligent acts" at the nursing home.
Arlene Townsend's family said she fell 18 times over 6 years at the same nursing home, the last time in 2007 resulting in her death.
92-year-old Elvira Nunziata died after falling down the stairs in her wheelchair at another nursing facility in 2004. A Florida newspaper reported no one knew she was missing for almost an hour.
In January, Rauner was asked about the deaths and financial judgments. "The attacks, we will have plenty of time to talk about them, there's no there, there," he said. When asked if his firm was culpable for the jury verdicts, Rauner replied no.
At the time of the deaths of Elvira Nunziata and Arlene Townsend, Rauner's company, THI, had ended its relationship with the nursing homes.
But attorneys representing the three families contend in this lawsuit filed in January that not only THI, but GTCR should have to pay the financial judgments regardless of the timing of the deaths.
The family's attorney Isaac Ruiz-Carus.
"It was an enterprise, a conglomerate of companies that," said attorney Isaac Ruiz-Carus, who represents the three families, adding the companies, "Short-staffed it. Under-budgeted it. As a result the nursing home residents were suffering.
In a statement the Rauner campaign called the allegations completely false and said "Pat Quinn, the Democratic Governor's Association and the government union bosses behind this ad should be ashamed."
Rauner declined to speak to NBC 5 on camera.
In the end Rauner's GTCR lost $60 million in the nursing home business according to a court document.
Polls show Rauner as the front runner in the March primary. In his first political campaign he has vowed to "shake up Springfield" and run the state more like the business he chaired for three decades.
"We are going to come to Springfield, run it like a business and turn it around," he said at one debate, adding, "I look forward to going to work for you."
Rauner was not sued individually and the judgments are being appealed. Much litigation remains. In July a Florida judge ruled that GTCR could be added as a named defendant in actions seeking to recover damages from the lawsuits.