Employees of Orem care facility charged with reckless abuse in patient’s death

Prosecutors say the employees did not take measures to prevent the patient’s death.

(Google Maps) Hidden Hollow Care Center, a long-term care facility in Orem, as seen in 2021. Two of the facility's employees have been charged in connection with the death of a patient, according to the Utah attorney general’s office.

Two employees of an Orem care facility for people with intellectual disabilities have been charged in connection with the death of a patient, the Utah attorney general’s office announced Tuesday.

The facility, Hidden Hollow Care Center, is one of at least two mentioned in a scathing Disability Law Center report released Monday that argues state agencies tasked with regulating long-term care facilities in Utah, which are supposed to provide for some of state’s most vulnerable patients, are failing.

Hidden Hollow’s director of nursing — Amy Lauritzen, 53 — and the facility’s administrator — Laetitia Odunze, 70 — each face one felony count of reckless aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, according to a news release.

The patient who died had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was supposed to receive medication used to treat it. The attorney general’s office contends both Lauritzen and Odunze were aware the facility had run out of the medication and knew the patient had begun expressing suicidal ideations and attempting suicide in the days before his death, charging documents state.

But charging documents state neither Lauritzen or Odunze informed night staff of the situation or “took measures” to prevent the patient’s death.

The patient, identified in charging documents as “C.N.,” died when he was struck by a car in the parking lot of Hidden Hollow early April 11, 2022. The driver was a Hidden Hollow employee, and the death was ruled a suicide.

The man killed had been living at the facility for about two and a half months before his death, charging documents state. When he moved in, he did not have any of the medication he had been prescribed.

“Rather than scheduling appropriate medical evaluations so that [the patient] could be officially admitted and receive proper medical treatment, [Lauritzen] administered [medication to the patient] using a stash of discontinued medication saved from a prior patient(s),” charging documents state.

The patient received full doses of this borrowed medication from around the time he arrived through April 1, 2022. As the stash began to dwindle, the patient began receiving smaller doses. By April 4, 2022, the leftover medication had run out, and the patient received none, charging documents state.

“The following week [the patient] exhibited uncontrolled behavior including hitting staff and residents, streaking outside, and laying down in the road and screaming that he wanted to die,” charging documents state.

One example happened April 7, 2022, when the patient reportedly ran out of the facility and into a road while naked, court documents state. He was heard repeating that “he needed to call 911 and wanted to die.”

Three days later, on April 10, 2022, the patient again ran out of the facility, this time attempting to lie down in the middle of the street. Odunze escorted him back inside, according to the charging documents.

“During an interview, [Odunze] said no other action was taken than to observe him closely,” the documents state.

That night, Odunze left the facility at about 8:30 p.m. without implementing any emergency measures or warning the employee who eventually struck and killed the patient just hours later, according to charging documents.

“In her role as Administrator, [Odunze] was a caretaker who had the duty to care for [the patient], a vulnerable adult,” prosecutors wrote in the charging documents. “Instead, she permitted [the patient’s] health to be endangered by failing to properly follow up on suicidal behaviors. [Odunze] failed to take emergency action, adequately warn staff, or put safeguards in place.”

The Disability Law Center report released Monday details the April 11, 2022, death of Chien Nguyen, who was a patient at Hidden Hollow Care Center. His initials match the initials of the patient described in charging documents. The date and manner of Nguyen’s death align as well.

That report states Hidden Hollow was fined $8,000 in connection with Nguyen’s death, as well as another confrontation where a staffer allegedly assaulted a resident and broke the resident’s tooth. The facility was also barred from admitting more residents for one month, but after that period, Hidden Hollow continued to admit and care for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the report states.

Last week, the Utah attorney general’s office filed neglect, abuse and exploitation charges against a father and son who previously ran an unlicensed board-and-care facility for vulnerable adults in Midvale that county health officials shut down in 2022 because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

That shuttered facility, Evergreen Place, was also cited in the Disability Law Center’s report.

The report called on Utah officials to increase regulations of long-term care facilities to ensure “quality oversight.”

“Across service systems, Utah licensing and state agencies have failed to protect people with disabilities,” the report states. “Time and time again, facilities that mistreat vulnerable residents and fail to provide them with appropriate treatment or even humane living conditions continue to operate.”