Queens Home for Mentally Ill Settles Lawsuit for $7
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: August 5, 2004
Six years ago, 24 mentally ill residents of a Queens adult home were
coerced into having prostate surgery in a medical scheme that generated
tens of thousands of dollars in government fees and proved emblematic of
New York's troubled system of adult homes.
No one was ever held criminally responsible, but yesterday, lawyers
announced that most of the men would receive a total of nearly $7.4
million in a settlement with the adult home, as well as a hospital and
two doctors, of a lawsuit over the surgery.
The settlement is a milestone in the system's decades-old history,
representing one of the few times that mentally ill residents of the
adult homes have been compensated for being mistreated.
Seventeen men took part in the case - the others declined to do so - and
each is to receive $432,653.
The lawsuit, which was filed in 2001, drew an unusual degree of
attention to the adult home system, which shelters 15,000 mentally ill
people in New York yet had until then received little scrutiny by
government or the news media. The case eventually helped spur Albany to
make its first serious efforts at overhauling and more closely
supervising the system.
The settlement resolves a federal lawsuit brought against the 361-bed
Leben Home for Adults, a notorious facility in Elmhurst that like many
adult homes, has long been something of a dumping ground for people
discharged from psychiatric wards.
Also agreeing to the settlement were Leben's former operator, Jacob
Rubin; two urologists involved in the surgery; and Parkway Hospital in
Forest Hills, where the surgery took place. As is customary in such
settlements, the defendants did not acknowledge wrongdoing.
"This lawsuit, which became a catalyst for adult home reform, is
important because it illustrates how individuals without a voice and
little power can assert their rights and obtain positive changes in
their lives in the face of daunting obstacles," said Jeanette Zelhof,
managing lawyer for MFY Legal Services, a nonprofit legal group.
Ms. Zelhof brought the lawsuit along with Timothy Clune of Disability
Advocates, another nonprofit group, and Lisa E. Cleary of the law firm
of Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, which handled the case pro bono.
The lawyers have set up trust accounts for the men to ensure that the
money is properly spent. Three of the 17 have died since the suit was
filed, and their estates are to receive the money.
The 24 Leben residents, who were generally so ill with schizophrenia
that they had little understanding of what was happening to them, were
herded into ambulettes outside Leben in early 1998 and driven to Parkway
Hospital. Unsupervised and confused, some wandered the hospital and had
to be calmed by guards and nurses before the surgery, according to a
The State Health Department eventually revoked the license of one
urologist who had arranged for the surgery, suspended the license of
another who conducted it, and fined Parkway. The state inquiry
determined that the Leben residents had endured "assembly-line
techniques to mass-produce surgery," and that the procedures generated
tens of thousands of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare fees.
At first, the department did not remove Leben's operator, Mr. Rubin,
prompting advocates for residents to criticize what they said was lax
regulation typical of the state's oversight of the homes.
Mr. Rubin had long had a poor inspection record. At one point, officials
ordered the evacuation of Leben's first floor after finding badly
damaged walls and ceilings, vermin infestation and soiled linen. Many of
the residents were filthy.
Only after the lawsuit was filed on behalf of the residents who had the
prostate surgery did the Health Department move to revoke Mr. Rubin's
license. The home is now called Queens Adult Care, and is run by an
operator who is well regarded.
Marcy Sheinwold, a lawyer who represented Mr. Rubin and Leben in the
lawsuit, did not respond to two messages seeking comment yesterday.
The case is not over. A group of defendants connected to Americare, a
home-health agency that had workers at Leben, has declined to settle.
The award for the Leben residents comes as the case against another
adult home that has long had a checkered record, the 125-bed Ocean House
in Far Rockaway, Queens, has also concluded.
Last month, Ocean House's operator, Sherman Taub, and his son, Judah
Taub, pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court to engaging in a mortgage
fraud scheme to steal more than $2 million from the home. Sherman Taub
faces a prison term of one to three years, while Judah Taub is to
receive three years of probation, officials said.
Sherman Taub was accused of taking control of Ocean House, which is
nominally nonprofit, and making it heavily indebted to a mortgage
company that he owned.