Assisted living owner charged with elder abuse; sisters tried to sound alarm

Long before Bhoodram “Ken” Parsaram was arrested on elder abuse charges last month, sisters Mary Steffen and Joan Stanton tried to sound the alarm that not all was right with the assisted living home the Wellington man owned and managed.

Their parents, Richard and Elizabeth “Betty” Weber, ended up at Parsaram’s six-bed ALF in a suburban West Palm Beach neighborhood in 2013 after a judge determined they could no longer care for themselves and placed their care and finances under a professional guardian.

The sisters complained to the Department of Children and Families at least three times about the ALF that was managed by Parsaram and his wife, Bidjma “Bibi” Parsaram. The complaints about BP Assisted Living Facility II — near Belvedere and Jog Roads — ranged from an unexplained injury to Betty Weber to the quality of the food to the smell of urine emanating from the furniture.

They also complained to the Agency for Health Care Administration, which inspects ALFs and nursing homes. They complained to the courts. They wanted their parents back in the couple’s Lake Worth home.

Their concerns were dismissed as unfounded.

So it was with little surprise that Steffen turned on her television April 21 and saw on the evening local news that Bhoodram Parsaram had been arrested the day before, charged with illegally restraining one of the elderly female residents to her bed after leaving the residents alone overnight. AHCA and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office had been spurred to action when an outside service provider provided a photograph of the senior restrained to her bed.

The tipster also alleged that Parsaram was sexually molesting female residents during the night, according to the arrest report, but Parsaram has not been charged with any sexual offenses.

Parsaram, 52, is charged with one count each of elderly abuse and neglect of an elderly person. He quickly posted a $2,000 bond. The court ordered him to have no contact with the former residents and AHCA indicated that would include their finances. The residents were moved out and ACHA has placed a moratorium on admissions.

Records show he and his wife owned one other ALF in West Palm Beach, but it closed in September 2016. 

The person who answered Parsaram’s cell phone on Wednesday hung up when asked to comment on the charges.

His attorney, R.J. Ferraro III of Stuart, said he is unfamiliar with the complaints from Steffen and Stanton and is waiting on evidence from the state attorney’s office on the criminal charges. He also denied the allegation in the arrest report by the anonymous tipster that his client engaged in any kind of molestation of residents.

“I’ve seen pictures of the ALF. It looked like it was in good shape. It looked like they were being served fresh food,” he said.

‘Slaps on the wrist’

When Stanton, who lives in Apalachicola, heard of Parsaram’s arrest, she said she felt both relief and anger.

“I was relieved he was finally incarcerated and he couldn’t continue operating, but I was also was aggravated that no one listened to us,” she said. “We were complaining for years and it was always discounted. We were painted as trouble-makers.”

Joe Landy, a West Palm Beach attorney who has sued nursing homes, says the scenario involving the Webers is all too familiar.

“I think AHCA is overwhelmed. Normally, the penalties I see are slaps on the wrist,” he said. “They continue to cause people to starve to death due to malnutrition, suffer wounds that look like dogs ate them and AHCA will give them a tiny financial fine.”

AHCA records show BP Assisted Living had been cited three times since 2011 for deficiencies, the latest being in February. The agency found problems with patient records, sanitary procedures and administering medicine to the residents. It also found the Parsarams had not filed an emergency plan with the county in case of a hurricane or other calamity.

The day Parsaram was arrested, Steffen watched saw her mother on the news finally leave the ALF for good.

Her father, Richard Weber had died in March 2016 of natural causes at age 97 while he was a resident.

Less than two weeks after Parsaram’s arrest, Betty Weber was also dead. After she left the ALF, the 94-year-old had been moved to four different facilities in the days before her death on May 3, according to Steffen. 

“It was too much for her,” Steffen said. “It had to take a toll.”

Bruises on arms, legs

Steffen said her mother had unusual bruising on her legs and the length of her arms after she was taken from the ALF. The family considered paying for an autopsy but were advised Betty Weber had been moved to too many facilities at the end of her life to determine where any abuse — if any — had occurred.

At Mary Steffen’s home in Lake Worth, documents are spread out on a dining room table. Another box is full of more paperwork, as is a filing cabinet. She says it’s a paper trail of a fruitless effort to free her parents from the ALF run by the Parsarams.

Steffen said during one visit staff refused to change her mother’s diaper. When Steffen tried to do it, the Parsarams forced her to leave. During another visit, she said she saw one resident suffering from dementia punished by being forced to sit in the chair in the blazing sun, facing the backyard fence.

“She said, ‘I didn’t do anything. They are punishing me again. I don’t know what I did,” Steffen recalled. “She then grabbed my wrist and squeezed it really hard. It was all she could do. She was asking me to help her.”

After Steffen expressed concern, she received a copy of a July 28, 2015, letter addressed to the ALF from an attorney for Catholic Charities, who had placed the woman at the facility. Steffen and Stanton, as well as their children, were advised to not obtain statements from other residents or take their photographs.

TV dinners and expired fish

Mary Steffen said the residents were fed food unfit for frail seniors: TV dinners, hot dogs and expired frozen fish. Steffen still has the fish carton that she pulled from the ALF’s recycling bin on March 27, 2016. The box is stamped “best before 11/2015.”

On a website advertising ALFs, BP Assisted Living touts: “If you love great home cooked meals prepared by loving hands, then we are the home for you! We offer love, respect, and above all provide care with dignity and compassion for our residents.”

“The most heart-breaking memory is when my grandpa tried to get me to eat his hot dog,” said Stanton’s daughter, Hilary Scott Stanton. “He said, ‘I can’t eat another one.’” But then Bibi Parsaram returned to the dining area and told him to eat his dinner, she said.

Joan Stanton said her parents ended up stuck at an ALF because of “a corrupt adult guardianship system” designed to extract cash from the savings of vulnerable senior citizens “in the guise of trying to help them.”

Stanton said her parents had named her their power of attorney and a health-care surrogate. Those wishes were wiped out when a court-appointed a professional guardian over the elderly couple’s health and finances.

Stanton and Steffen said that the $6,000 per month paid to BP Assisted Living could easily have gone for around-the-clock care at her parents’ home in Lake Worth.

Other grown children of the Webers, though, were committed to the ALF, alleging that the Steffen and Stanton families failed to properly care for the Webers when they were living alone in Lake Worth— an accusation the sisters deny.

Another daughter, Phyllis Kennedy, said she did not know the details of the charges against Parasarm but said of the ALF: “My mother got absolutely the best care there I was extremely happy with everything they did. They were on top of everything.”

She said her other sisters had ulterior motives in trying to remove her parents from the ALF and noted that none of their complaints were substantiated.

Richard Weber ran a floor covering store in Covington, Ky., before moving to Florida. His wife, Betty, was a stay-at-home mother who raised seven children. Weber was a World War II veteran and a talented trumpeter.

“He played with all the major artists, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James,” Steffen said. “He dressed so cool. They were really a cool-looking couple.”

‘Time is getting too short’

Richard Weber spoke to The Palm Beach Post before his death for its series on guardianships of the elderly in the spring of 2015, saying he wanted to live the last years of his life in his home with his wife. “I feel the time is getting too short for me to get back in my own home,” Richard Weber said. “It ain’t worth getting old.”’

But then he wrote the judge in the guardianship case saying he was satisfied living at the ALF. 

Steffen and Stanton said their father later told them that Bibi Parsaram made him write a letter to the judge that he wanted to stay in the ALF. He also told his daughters that he feared if he testified against the ALF he would be separated from his wife of 75 years.

“The biggest threat they used whenever there was an issue (was) they would tell my father they would separate him from my mother,” Steffen said. “He believed it because the guardian took him out of the house of 20 years. They changed the locks right in front of him.”

After their father died, Steffen and Stanton became so concerned about their mother’s health, they took her from the ALF one day in April 2016 to Good Samaritan Medical Center without permission from the court-appointed guardian. After that, they had to get permission to see their mother and that permissions were often denied, Steffen said — including the days before her mother’s death.

To further look into Steffen and Stanton’s complaints, a circuit judge appointed Boca Raton elder law attorney Michelle Hollister to look into the ALF. She never spoke to Steffen or Stanton — even when they showed up at her Boca Raton office. She recommended to the court Betty Weber stay at BP Assisted Living.

Hollister did talk to Bibi Parsaram, who claimed the sisters were “disruptive and possibly intoxicated” during visits and bragged that DCF had never found any complaint filed by Steffen or Staton valid, according to the attorney’s report. Hollister also recommended selling the Webers’ Lake Worth home to pay the ALF since the couples’ savings had been depleted.

“Bibi had animosity towards us because she knew we were catching on to how she and her husband operated the ALF,” Joan Stanton said.

Neither Hollister nor the court-appointed guardian, Lynrod Douglas, returned phone calls or e-mails for comment. Staton had written to Douglas about her concerns about her mother’s care at BP Assisted Living.

Doctor disciplined

Noted in Hollister’s report is that medical care was provided to Betty Weber by advanced registered practical nurse Ivory Joe Christen.

In 2012, The Palm Beach Post reported Christen ran two businesses in which a Broward-based doctor was arrested on charges of signing blank prescriptions for hundreds of thousands of painkillers and anti-anxiety pills. Christen was not charged, but a court document alleges that he was one of the employees who handed out the prescriptions.

The other doctor who took care of the Webers at BP Assisted Assisted Living was Richard Dellerson, according to documents. Dellerson was a well-regarded Broward practitioner who fell from grace when the Florida Board of Medicine found he made “misleading, deceptive or fraudulent” statements in two separate malpractice cases by exaggerating his medical credentials. He is barred from performing expert testimony.

Besides the courts giving BP Assisted Living Facility a pass on the complaints, so did DCF and AHCA.

In one complaint to DCF generated by Steffen, the agency said it made an unannounced visit and reviewed concerns. Steffen told DCF her mother injured her head, requiring stitches. She said the ALF wouldn’t tell her family how Betty Weber got injured.

DCF said in the report closed in February 2015 that the sheriff’s office found the victims well care for and the facility well-maintained. “There appears to be a problem with the victims’ family and the facility,” the DCF report stated, finding the complaint unfounded.

AHCA investigated another complaint by Steffen and found that the facility wasn’t violating any laws or rules.

This all changed last month when AHCA received the photograph of a 90-year-0ld resident restrained to her bed.

The morning of his arrest, Parsaram tried to fool AHCA investigators that the five elderly residents were not being left alone overnight, according to the sheriff’s offense report.

AHCA acts

When an AHCA investigator and deputies arrived at 6 a.m., no one answered the door, but then they saw a black SUV drive up suddenly to a nearby roundabout. The driver went into a neighbor’s backyard before going into the ALF through a side entrance.

Parsaram then answered the door, saying he was asleep and didn’t hear the knocking. Investigators said the bed was right next to the door they were knocking on and was made with two TV remotes on the covers “perfectly placed such as if someone had left them there after watching TV the night before.”

After the arrest, AHCA on April 30 issued an “immediate moratorium on admissions” for BP Assisted Living.

“One of the residents of the facility was found restrained in the resident’s bed via the use of two half-side rails and the ends of the bed raised to the highest position, rendering the resident incapable of exiting the bed,” the AHCA order states. “The resident was found attempting to exit the bed but stuck between the bed and side rail.”

Florida Statutes prohibit the use of restraints in assisted living facilities.

“The same resident had been tied to the bed for an extended period of time within the prior week,” AHCA reported, citing the photograph from the tipster.

The agency found BP Assisted Living to be an “immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare” and noted that the facility was “well aware of its deficient practices.”

Landy, the attorney who sues nursing homes, said AHCA’s moratorium is hardly the death knell for nursing homes and ALFs. He noted that the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 12 residents died in the stifling heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma last year, has appealed its moratorium and is still in business.

“It’s all about the all-mighty dollar. If the owner thinks it’s worth appealing, they are fighting,” he said. “Good luck shutting anybody down.”

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