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Warning signs unnoticed at Maryland group home

When Maryland's government hires a company to provide around-the-clock nursing care to severely disabled foster children — arguably the state's most vulnerable residents — it requires the contractor to have its business affairs in order.

But LifeLine, which attracted media attention after the recent death of a 10-year-old resident, had many signs that it was struggling financially to staff its Laurel apartments with an appropriate number of nurses.

One recent indication was a sign posted on some of LifeLine's units in the Laurel-area community of Russett Green on May 12. "Payroll Alert," read the sign. "Please be advised that the scheduled payday of May 15th will be paid May 24, 2014. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding." It was signed "Theresa Martin, CEO."

Theresa Martin is the sister-in-law of LifeLine founder Randall Martin Jr., who is serving a 50-year prison sentence for first-degree arson.

Ted Dallas, secretary of Maryland's Department of Human Resources, said his agency would look at some other findings that The Baltimore Sun's investigation of LifeLine turned up. Among them: bankruptcy records indicating that LifeLine had made payments to a real estate company owned by Martin and to a nursing staffing company connected to the family.

Three nurses who worked for LifeLine won wage claims against the staffing company, Nursing Services & Pediatric Care. But a June 9 letter from the state's attorney general to the nurses delivered some bad news: "It appears the company has no income or assets from which the judgment can be collected."

LifeLine's application to be relicensed by the state health department's Developmental Disabilities Administration indicated that the company had a five-person board of directors. But when The Baltimore Sun called each member, only two called back, and both said they were not on the board.

One, Frank Marchant — who testified as a character witness for Randall Martin during his arson trial — said he was a board member, but that was more than three years ago.

Another, Ruth Quispe, said she has never been a board member. Her only connection to LifeLine, she said, is that her daughter was once a resident.

Having a functioning board is a contract requirement.

Maryland Health Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein said he would like to train inspectors to be more aware of such corporate issues that could indicate problems with care.

One warning sign, he said, would be many family members working for the same company. Plus, an inability to pay nurses on time — or at all — could result in staffing shortages that would jeopardize the care of residents.

"I think there are warning sings that can develop in the corporate governance side," Sharfstein said. "We've been working with the inspector general's office to try to improve our ability to spot warning signs that are not on the medical side."

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