Lawsuit Filed Over Deadly Connecticut Nursing Home Fire

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The family of one 16 people killed in last year's fire at a Hartford nursing home has filed a lawsuit alleging the facility was severely understaffed and failed to provide emergency training to its workers.

The Feb. 26, 2003, blaze at the Greenwood Health Center killed 10 nursing home patients and residents, many of whom were too old or incapacitated to save themselves. Six hospitalized patients died in the weeks following the fire.

Authorities say the fire was set by a mentally disturbed patient, Lesley Andino, who was flicking a cigarette lighter, igniting her bedding.

Andino, 24, faces 16 counts of arson murder in connection with the blaze. State psychologists are trying to determine if she is competent to stand trial.

The lawsuit was filed in Hartford Superior Court on behalf of the family of 64-year-old Sofiya Rudister against Lexington Highgreen Holding Inc., the management company that operated the Greenwood facility at the time of the fire.

The suit, which seeks damages for pain and suffering, alleges that Greenwood was severely understaffed and did not provide emergency training to respond appropriately to the fire. Greenwood also had no sprinkler system at the time of the fire, attorneys said.

The Connecticut General Assembly has since enacted legislation requiring all nursing homes to install sprinklers.

Jeffrey L. Polinsky, an attorney who filed the lawsuit, cited a report issued last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office which faulted the staff for failing to properly apply the nursing home's fire response plan, particularly by not shutting doors to patients' rooms after the fire started.

``Inadequate staff response contributed to the loss of life in the Hartford fire,'' the report said.

Greenwood is under new management and has since been renamed the Park Place Health Center.

Lexington Highgree Holding has since declared bankruptcy. The home is now operated by Spectrum Healthcare LLC of Vernon.

A telephone message was left Monday for Howard Dickstein, the company's president and chief executive.

The investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office, the federal government's investigative branch formerly known as the General Accounting Office, said Greenwood staff members provided inaccurate information to fire inspectors about how often fire drills were conducted among the night staff.

Dickstein and other Spectrum officials displayed new fire safety measures, including sprinklers and smoke detectors installed in each room, when reopening what had been the building's fire-damaged wing.