ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona Attorney General sues health care facility over illegal secrecy clause, elder abuse

May 22, 2024, 4:05 AM

Secrecy clauses in Sun City West facility part of Kris Mayes lawsuit...

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes is suing Sun West Choice Health & Rehab Facility, along with the company that operates it. (Photo from sunwestchoice.com)

(Photo from sunwestchoice.com)

PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes is suing an organization that operates dozens of facilities in the state over its illegal secrecy clauses, officials announced on Monday.

Mayes said she is suing to help the family of a man who died from neglect in a long-term care facility.

Robert Knight, 58, died at a health care facility in March 2022, Mayes said.

The facility, Sun West Choice Health & Rehab Facility, is near R H Johnson and Meeker boulevards in Sun City West.

It’s operated by The Ensign Group, Inc. which has more than 5,000 total beds across its dozens of Arizona facilities, Mayes said.

Her lawsuit accused the company of tying the hands of family members whose loved ones died of neglect with illegal arbitration agreements.

“When families are forced to keep silent about abuse and neglect because of illegal arbitration agreements, the system cannot work as intended,” Mayes said in the news release. “Any arbitration agreement that blocks victims from reporting their claims to the Attorney General violates Arizona law and cannot be enforced.”

How do secrecy clauses hurt Arizona families?

Knight’s wife, Wendy Knight, moved her immobile husband who had dementia into the facility in July 2019, Mares said.

She allegedly had to sign an illegal arbitration agreement with an expansive secrecy clause. She and her family members weren’t allowed to talk about the existence of the arbitration. They couldn’t even report their problems to the attorney general’s office, prosecutors said.

This negatively impacts Arizonans in general because the family couldn’t warn others about the abuse and neglect Knight suffered from while at the facility, Mayes said.

Knight died a few days after he was found face-down on his room’s floor with a bleeding nose in March 2022, Mayes’ office said.

Knight had a massive bed sore that was 1.5 inches deep and 4 by 6 inches wide, prosecutors said. There were hundreds of times when Knight should have been turned in his bed to avoid pressure sores — but the facility failed to protect his health, according to the lawsuit.

Family members muzzled in elder abuse case, Mayes said

When Knight’s widow filed a lawsuit against Sun West Choice, the facility asked the court to enforce the illegal arbitration agreement she signed, Mayes’ office said.

Said agreement is illegal due to the Adult Protective Services Act, prosecutors said.

“Secrecy clauses like those imposed on this victim’s family are not only illegal, but they also block me from doing my job of protecting vulnerable adults,” Mayes said in the news release. “The court should invalidate the secrecy clause in this case and others that are illegally concealing instances of abuse and neglect from the public.”

How will this health care lawsuit help other Arizona families?

Knight’s family isn’t the only one hurt by secrecy clauses, the attorney general’s office said.

In fact, this lawsuit marks the second time Mayes has intervened in a legal matter to fight a secrecy clause in the past few months.

Mayes said her office will keep suing to invalidate these clauses.

It’s not uncommon for health care facilities to push illegal secret arbitration agreements to families when they are stressed and filling out admissions paperwork, prosecutors said.

“The Legislature banned these secrecy clauses decades ago, but for decades facilities have been using them anyway,” Mayes said.

She hopes that her repeated lawsuits will stop them from continuing these illegal practices.

“Keeping abuse and neglect secret is not just illegal; it’s wrong,” Mayes said. “I intend to put a stop to it and carry out the legislative intent of transparency in the care of vulnerable adults.”

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Arizona Attorney General sues health care facility over illegal secrecy clause, elder abuse