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State: Worker at northern Minn. facility made vulnerable adults eat off the floor

VIRGINIA, Minn.—The information from three community members agreed: A staff member at a Virginia facility for vulnerable adults "threw food on the floor and made (four clients) eat it."

As a consequence of that and other reported misbehavior, the former employee of Chisholm-based NHS Northstar Specialized Services has been barred from contact with vulnerable adults, according to an investigative memorandum posted this week by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

A spokesman for the company confirmed on Monday that the staff member — who was not identified by name or gender — no longer worked for NHS but offered no additional comment.

The report, issued on Nov. 7 by Department of Human Services investigator Carla Harvieux, did not fault the employer, but found maltreatment allegations against the staff person were "substantiated as to the emotional abuse of eight vulnerable adults."

According to Harvieux's report, the incidents in which abuse occurred took place "prior to Sept. 13, 2017 and ongoing." She gathered her information during an onsite visit on Sept. 28, relying heavily on the accounts of three community members as well as staff members and five of the vulnerable adults who were described as victims of the abuse. Two of the others were "nonverbal," the report said, and another was deceased.

The allegedly abusive staff member had previously worked at NHS Northstar's Facility A in Virginia but worked at Facility B more recently, the report said; each facility contained four of the affected clients.

The community members said the staff person described his/her own conduct to them, and although all mentioned the incident with the food, one specifically said it involved pepperoni slices that had fallen off a table onto the floor.

"The (staff person) told the (vulnerable adult) to pick up (the) pepperoni and eat it because they were 'not going to waste it,' " according to the report.

The report also described the staff person using coarse language to refer to the clients, "smacking" a vulnerable adult on the hand and "bragging" about hitting some of the clients on their faces with pillows.

Although the staff person denied the allegations, "there was a preponderance of the evidence that ... the (staffer) engaged in conduct that produced or could reasonably be expected to produce emotional distress," the report stated.

The finding of maltreatment and the staffer's disqualification can be appealed, the report noted.

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