For John Chiurato, grief gives way to anger and regret.
“He protected me when I was young,” Chiurato said. “In the end, I should’ve been able to protect him.”
The Ottawa man’s father, Francesco Chiurato, spent the last ten months of his life living at Pleasant View Luther Nursing Home. After suffering a stroke and other medical complications, the 88-year-old depended on around-the-clock care from staff.
Chiurato said his father’s experience overall was good until last June, when Francesco started complaining about a new employee who started working at Pleasant View.
“My father wouldn’t make up stuff like that. That’s when he caught my attention. That’s when I knew something was up,” Chiurato said.
Chiurato set up a surveillance camera in his father’s room to see for himself and said what he discovered was “constant neglect or physical battery.”
“She would make him clean himself up after accidents,” Chiurato described. “There’s one situation where she ran up to him and put her middle finger in his face…you could see her cleaning his genital area and then forcing the same rag into his face.”
A police report also detailed one incident when “Francesco fell back into the bed from a standing position, and his head went back and over the other side of the bed,” and the certified nurse’s aide did not help him up.
According to the police report, in another instance, while the camera’s view is blocked, the employee’s “right arm jabs in a punching motion toward Francesco. He is heard moaning immediately after the movement.”
Chiurato turned over the video to the Ottawa Police Department. Detectives in July charged Doris Burke, 35, with felony aggravated battery to a person older than 60 and felony abuse of a long-term healthcare facility resident. She has plead not guilty.
Burke initially told police in interviews that Francesco could “be aggressive and has tried kicking her before.” Burke denied to police that she ever threw anything at him or hit him.
Contacted in connection with this report, Burke and her attorney declined comment, citing the pending court case.
The video and its legal challenges
Chiurato and his family were preparing for trial, when they said they received disturbing news and contacted NBC 5 Investigates.
The LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Office told the Chiurato family that it was preparing to plead down the felony charges to misdemeanors.
Burke’s attorney, Darrell Seigler, filed a series of motions to dismiss evidence and one of the felony charges.
According to court filings, Seigler argued the video evidence should be suppressed because it violates the Illinois Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act, which went into effect in January 2016.
The new law requires that any long-term care facility resident who wishes to install a recording device must first notify the facility in writing. Seigler also argued that the act states “a sign must be clearly and conspicuously posted at the entrance to a resident’s room where authorized electronic monitoring is being conducted.”
Chiurato did not comply, Seigler wrote.
Furthermore, Seigler argued that under the law, video and audio could only be admitted as evidence in a trial “if the contents of the recording have not been edited or artificially enhanced.”
The video that Chiurato had turned over to police had been edited. Chiurato said the camera installed in his father’s room was programmed to a motion detection system and recorded continuously if triggered for more than a month. He said he ended up with hours and hours of footage but only turned over relevant clips to police.
Chiurato said he was not aware of the stipulations of notifying the facility as required under the Electronic Monitoring Act, adding that he “wanted to catch the person in the act.”
Shortly after Chiurato contacted NBC 5 Investigates, Karen Donnelly, LaSalle County’s new State’s Attorney, decided she would take over the case. The Chiurato case will be the first she personally handles since taking office last December.
“This kind of abuse should never occur, and this is going to send a strong message to other (certified nursing aides) that we’re not accepting this,” said Donnelly.
She acknowledged that her office had offered a plea deal because the defense raised a legitimate argument that the law’s requirements about electronic monitoring in nursing homes had been violated. But she is responding, claiming the defense is misinterpreting the law.
“His father obviously told him about the fears of this woman and the previous acts, so he had every right to go and record that,” Donnelly said. “There is an eavesdropping statute in Illinois. There are clear exemptions that you can record one party when you feel that there is a crime to be committed or will be committed.”
Donnelly said the legislative purpose of the electronic monitoring law is to protect nursing home residents. Donnelly said whether Burke is found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, she won’t be able to practice in Illinois again.
“I’m hoping to bring Mr. Chiurato some closure, whether we win or lose,” Donnelly said. “We do face some hurdles, but I believe with proper preparation and attack, we can overcome those hurdles and give him the result I feel he deserves.”
As a result of the alleged abuse, Pleasant View Luther Nursing Home has been fined by the Illinois Department of Health for “failing to protect residents from verbal and physical abuse by staff.”
The 90-bed facility was initially penalized $25,000, but after a hearing with IDPH, both parties entered into a consent agreement, in which Pleasant View paid $13,750 in fines.
Executive Director Becky Cattani said she could not discuss the matter further because of the pending court case but confirmed that Burke was put on administrative leave once managers became aware of the situation and that she no longer works there.
“Any time that a concern is brought to our attention, we address it immediately. Welfare of our residents is our top priority,” Cattani said.
The next hearing on the criminal case is scheduled for Thursday, January 26.