Iowa nurse accused of running an illegal, unlicensed assisted living facility

By: - July 1, 2021 10:26 am

A central Iowa nurse is accused of attempting to exploit a potential gap in state regulation by running an illegal, unlicensed care facility out of this house in Des Moines. (Photo by Polk County Assessor’s Office)

A central Iowa nurse is accused of attempting to exploit a potential gap in state regulation by running an illegal, unlicensed care facility in Des Moines.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and the City of Des Moines are suing Sutton Senior Home, a corporation run by Anne Porter, a registered nurse from Ankeny.

They allege that last fall, DIA inspectors visited the single-family, three-bedroom residence at 3219 SW 39th St., Des Moines, and concluded it was operating as an unlicensed residential care facility or assisted living program.

According to court records, DIA inspectors found that the residents of Sutton Senior Home were receiving home health care services from A-Plus Home Care Services, which is an Ankeny company owned and run by Porter. The services included assistance with personal care, health-related care, and 24-hour living assistance.

DIA concluded Porter was circumventing state laws requiring licensure and inspection of care facilities by using one corporate entity to provide housing, as a landlord normally would, and another corporate entity to provide health care, as a home-health agency would.

Last November, DIA wrote to Porter and stated, “In effect, Sutton Senior Home is not operating distinct of the home health care services; it is operating a health care facility or assisted living program through the use of two legal entities. The department has consistently required health care facilities or assisted living programs operating in totality through the use of an associated home health agency (to) be licensed or certified in accordance with the services being provided.”

According to DIA, Porter’s attorney responded to the agency in February by denying that Sutton Senior Home is a care facility while indicating the home would continue to operate as usual. Court records don’t indicate how long the facility has been in operation, but Better Business Bureau records indicate it has been open for at least four years.

The agency and the city are now going to court, asking that a judge order Porter to cease operations as a health care facility. As an alternative, they ask that the court grant a writ-of-removal order against the residents of the home and that the court require Porter to “re-home” the tenants elsewhere.

City officials said they believe six to eight people living in the home might have to be relocated. State officials said the home, as of eight months ago, had six tenants. Since licensed care facilities are defined by law as homes with three or more three or more unrelated tenants, Sutton Senior Home could operate without licensing or inspections if it brought its occupancy down to two residents.

In addition to the state’s concerns about Porter running an unlicensed care center, the city is arguing that because Sutton Senior Home is located in a residential neighborhood, it is in violation of zoning laws.

Porter has yet to file a response to the lawsuit. She and her attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

County tax records indicate the home is owned by Sutton Senior Home, which acquired the title to the house from Porter last year. Porter bought the house in 2017.

On her website, Porter says she has been a registered nurse for more than 40 years and holds a master’s degree in health care administration.

In 2010, the Iowa Board of Nursing suspended Porter’s nursing license after alleging she was impaired while working at a medical clinic. The board alleged that Porter had arrived at work smelling of an alcoholic beverage, with slurred speech and an altered gait, and had difficulty finishing thoughts and sentences. On other occasions, the board alleged, she was unable to make it into work due to habitual intoxication.

In 2011, Porter formed A-Plus Home Care Services, and in 2012, the Board of Nursing reinstated her license. Her license is currently in good standing.

Court records show that in addition to running Sutton Senior Home and A-Plus Home Care Services, Porter also serves as a court-appointed guardian for several individuals in central Iowa.

The notion of using one corporation to provide housing for elderly or disabled Iowans, while another corporation, run by the same people, provides health services, is not new.

In 2009, Iowa’s largest assisted living center attempted to avoid state oversight and regulation after being repeatedly penalized by inspectors for poor quality care.

The Dubuque Retirement Community, then home to 116 seniors, announced plans to give up its state license as an assisted living center. The home’s owner, Assisted Living Concepts, said it planned to operate the building as if it were an apartment complex subject only to landlord-tenant laws.

Residents of the home who were dependent and needed medical assistance would be able to stay in the building and pay for 24-hour health care provided by Swan Home Health, a wholly owned subsidiary of Assisted Living Concepts.

The company indicated that by separating the housing from the health care services, it would be able to provide the same care to the same seniors in the same building, but without a license and all of the attendant regulations and inspections.

The plan was announced after the facility was fined several times for failing to meet minimum government standards for resident care and its license was placed on conditional status.

The Dubuque facility is now a fully licensed assisted living center operating under the name Eagle Pointe Place. It is owned by Dubuque AID Propco, a for-profit real estate company.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.