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Health Secretary Bowen Found In Contempt In Nursing Home Suit

December 22, 1987

DENVER (AP) _ A federal judge has found U.S. Secretary of Health Otis Bowen in contempt of court for failing to set adequate standards for inspecting nursing homes.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch handed down his ruling Monday and gave Bowen until Jan. 25 to remedy the matter.

The action follows a contempt hearing last week, the latest hearing in a legal battle that began almost 13 years ago when Michael Patrick Smith and several residents of Heritage House, a Lakewood nursing home, filed suit.

The plaintiffs alleged they were deprived of their rights and mistreated under barbaric conditions. Smith, a muscular dystrophy victim, died 12 years ago.

Heritage House later was sold and went into bankruptcy.

After striking down the national nursing home inspection system on March 24, Matsch ordered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop patient-centered standards that could withstand legal challenges by nursing home operators, said John Holland, who has represented the plaintiffs.

Matsch ruled that Bowen’s most recent effort didn’t comply and he technically was in contempt.

″The refusal of the secretary to be bound by methods, guidelines, and procedures is a dereliction of his duty,″ Matsch said.

Matsch disputed the department’s contention that ″quality health care cannot be legislatively defined.″

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