Employee at senior living facility in Santa Fe faces abuse charge

May 24, 2019

An employee at a Santa Fe senior living community was charged this week with a felony count of abuse following an incident last month in which she was accused of trying to forcibly remove an elderly resident with dementia from a lounge at the center.

Santa Fe police filed the charge Wednesday against Kathryn Olson, 58, the wellness director at the Montecito Santa Fe retirement community, in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court.

According to court documents, the charge stems from an April 26 incident involving an 89-year-old woman with severe Alzheimer’s disease. Olson’s treatment of the resident had raised concerns among other Montecito staff and prompted the woman’s daughter to contact police.

Olson has not been arrested, but state prosecutors plan to review the case.

District Attorney Marco Serna, formerly a prosecutor in the Medicaid Fraud and Elder Abuse Division of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, said Thursday he has requested that police expedite the process of submitting evidence to his office.

“As soon as we do receive the discovery, this is a priority case,” Serna said.

Reached by phone Thursday, Olson declined to comment. “I’ve been told not to talk to anyone about anything,” she said.

Montecito, at 500 Rodeo Road, primarily houses residents who live independently. A smaller number are assisted-living residents and memory care patients, such as the woman with Alzheimer’s who had decided to make a Friday evening visit to the facility’s lounge area, where other residents had gathered to listen to music.

Sometime later, according to employees’ statements to police and surveillance video, the woman caused a disturbance and Olson made an aggressive attempt to remove her that many considered abusive.

Employees told officers Olson repeatedly grabbed the woman — who is 4-foot-10 and weighs 90 pounds — and shook her, a police report says. The workers described Olson’s actions as “overly aggressive” and “uncalled for” and said there were other ways to handle such situations involving patients with dementia.

Surveillance video from the lounge, obtained from the Santa Fe Police Department, shows Olson trying to lift the woman from her seat and the woman resisting her efforts. At one point in the video, Olson retrieves a wheelchair and appears to forcefully grab the woman by the shoulders and lift her up from her seat.

Olson told investigators she had been “kind but firm” with the woman and had been trying to coax her to the center’s lobby to get a cookie and coffee. She was never physically aggressive with the woman, Olson said, according to the report, and noted that an examination the following day found no bruising or other marks on the resident.

Investigators wrote in their report that Olson’s statements “didn’t correspond” with the surveillance video.

They attempted to interview the elderly woman, the investigators wrote, but due to her medical condition, she did not remember the incident.

Rachael Hemann, a spokeswoman for the senior living center, declined to comment Thursday on whether Olson was still employed at the facility.

In a prepared statement on the incident, Montecito said the resident was not physically harmed and that it would continue to cooperate with authorities in the case.

Employees who witnessed the incident told police the trouble began when the woman with dementia started insulting another resident who was sitting in the seat where she typically sits.

But the woman’s daughter, Grace Philips, told officers there were issues with her mother earlier in the day — and even in the days leading up to the incident.

Her mother had been receiving medication for Alzheimer’s disease that made her lethargic, dizzy and “out of it,” Philips told police, and her mother’s doctor had advised staff at Montecito to stop the medication. Then, Philips said, she began receiving phone calls and texts from Olson, who complained her mother had been misbehaving and was being rude to staff, and they said they had given her a sleep aid to “mellow her out.”

On April 26, the day of the incident, Olson had contacted the patient’s doctor with a request for a new prescription for the Alzheimer’s drugs, the daughter told officers. Philips said she intervened, blocking the request, and a short time later, she received messages from Olson saying her mother was being aggressive. Olson asked her to come to the facility to help.

According to the police report, when Philips arrived at the lounge, she found her mother sitting in a chair, listening to music, “and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.”

Philips reported the incident to police May 16.

In an interview with The New Mexican on Thursday, Philips explained the delay: Although she had responded to Olson’s request for her help on the night of the incident, she said, she was not alerted about a physical encounter between her mother and Olson until several days later.

And then, when she learned Olson remained employed at Montecito, Philips said, she contacted the New Mexico Department of Health. The agency didn’t respond, she said, so she went to police with her concerns about Olson.

“I’m quite concerned that this may not be isolated, or unusual conduct, for her,” Philips said in the interview. ”I feel very strongly that it needs to be investigated fully.”

She added: “I think there are fabulous staff at the Montecito, and I think my mom’s happy there.”

David Morgan, a spokesman for the state Health Department, said in an email late Thursday that Montecito had reported the incident to the agency and had conducted an internal investigation. The Health Department also has launched its own investigation, Morgan said.

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