MENTAL HEALTH

2 women charged with aggravated abuse in connection to death of patient at Orem care facility

Jun 28, 2023, 9:00 AM

Two women who work for a care facility in Orem were charged Tuesday with aggravated abuse in connec...

Chien Nguyen died by suicide in 2022 after the unlicensed care facility where he lived was closed due to poor conditions, according to a Disability Law Center report. Two of his caretakers were charged with aggravated abuse. (Disability Law Center)

(Disability Law Center)

OREM — Two women who work for a care facility in Orem were charged Tuesday with aggravated abuse in connection to a patient’s death by suicide.

The Medicaid Fraud and Patient Abuse Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office filed charges against Amy Lauritzen, 53, and Laetitia Odunze, 70, employees of the private intermediate care and nursing facility Hidden Hollow Care Center in Orem. Prosecutors allege the women caused a “vulnerable adult” in their care to be placed in a situation in which he was endangered, which ultimately led to his death.

Lauritzen and Odunze were charged with reckless aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a third-degree felony.

According to charging documents, Chien Nguyen — who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia — was in the care of Lauritzen, the director of nursing, and Odunze, the administrator, at Hidden Hollow Care Center from Jan. 26, 2022 to April 11, 2022.

The charges came just one day after a report released Monday by the Disability Law Center of Utah called into question the facility and Nguyen’s placement there.

Nguyen was previously at Ririe Care Center, or Evergreen Place, a facility that got shut down by the Salt Lake County Health Department, causing 17 patients to be transferred elsewhere. The owners of the Midvale care center were charged with multiple counts of exploitation of vulnerable adults.

Nguyen was given a diagnosis of an intellectual disability and admitted to Hidden Hollow officially on March 24, 2022. The Disability Law Center said the diagnosis was “curiously given” because Nguyen “successfully attended high school and had no record of disability prior to age 18 as required by the care facility admission rules.”

The report called Nguyen’s new placement “strange because Hidden Hollow is licensed to serve only individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, whereas individuals living at Evergreen were all diagnosed with severe and persistent mental health conditions.”

Based on interviews and documents the Disability Law Center obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services, staff members in the department and at Hidden Hollow expressed concern with Nguyen’s placement because he didn’t have a developmental disability, but “he needed to stay because there were no other facilities available to him.”

Nguyen was prescribed a daily dose of 150 milligrams of clozapine, a medication used to treat severely ill schizophrenic patients.

Due to switching facilities, Nguyen lost access to previous mental health providers and had delays in accessing his medication, leading to worse psychiatric symptoms, the report says.

When he arrived at Hidden Hollow Care he did not have any clozapine, according to charging documents.

“Rather than scheduling appropriate medical evaluations so that (Nguyen) could be officially admitted and receive proper medical treatment, (Lauritzen) administered clozapine to (Nguyen) using a stash of discontinued medication saved from a prior patient(s),” the charging documents state. Nguyen received the borrowed medication until the beginning of April when the stash started to run out, prosecutors allege.

Lauritzen, in a nursing assessment on March 28, 2022, said Nguyen admitted to her he wanted to die, charging documents state. In an incident report on April 5, 2022, Lauritzen said Nguyen is “currently out of his clozapine and is struggling,” according to the documents.

Nguyen did not receive any clozapine for a week at the beginning of April, the charges state. On April 7, Lauritzen documented in a treatment note the patient was out of his medication for more than a week, and the following week Nguyen exhibited “uncontrolled behavior including hitting staff and residents, streaking outside, and laying down in the road and screaming that he wanted to die,” the documents state.

On April 10, 2022, Nguyen ran out of the facility, sat in the middle of the road and tried to lay down. Odunze pulled him to his feet and escorted him back into the facility. The incident was not reported in a “Plan of Future Corrective Actions” section and “no other action was taken than to observe him closely,” according to the charging documents.

Odunze left the facility at about 8:30 p.m. and did not warn the night staff about Nguyen’s condition, the charging documents say.

At about 1 a.m., Nguyen was hit and killed by a vehicle driven by a Hidden Hollow employee in the parking lot of the care center. The Orem Police Department investigated the accident and ruled it a suicide, charging documents state.

The charging documents say Lauritzen permitted Nguyen’s health “to be endangered by mismanaging medications, failing to obtain necessary medical evaluations, and failing to properly follow up on suicidal behaviors.”

Odunze also failed to properly follow up on suicidal behaviors and “failed to take emergency action, adequately warn staff, or put safeguards in place,” prosecutors allege.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Crisis Hotlines

  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis LifeLine at 988
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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2 women charged with aggravated abuse in connection to death of patient at Orem care facility