Lawsuits allege substandard care at South Side facility

Family members removed two women with dementia from New City Supportive Living in the Back of the Yards before filing lawsuits.

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Tonya Spencer holds a picture of her mother, who, according to a lawsuit filed received substandard care at a South Side supportive living facility.

Tonya Spencer holds a picture of her mother, who, according to a lawsuit filed received substandard care at a South Side supportive living facility.

Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

The families of two seniors with dementia have sued a South Side care facility, claiming the facility did not prevent residents from wandering away and allowed them to live in “totally undignified conditions.”

The two seniors’ experiences are detailed in separate lawsuits filed against New City Supportive Living, 4707 S. Marshfield Ave.

Rebecca Spencer, 69, is a known wanderer, yet she got out of the supportive living facility in June 2020 and roamed for more than 24 hours before she was found several miles away, according to one lawsuit.

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The operators of New City Supportive Living told family members they would check security camera footage to see how it happened, but no answers were provided, said attorney Margaret Battersby Black, who’s representing the Spencer family.

Six days after she went missing in June 2020, Spencer wasn’t in her room when family members visited. She was found in a locked storage closet that contained cleaning chemicals, according to her daughter, Tonya Spencer.

“I have a lot of unanswered questions,” Tonya Spencer said.

“They spoke of providing services that would redirect her behavior. She would never feel isolated, she would never be alone, they had activities to keep them active. But we never saw any of it. We never got the things they promised us that made us say ‘OK, we’re going to put her in your care,’” she said.

A separate lawsuit was filed by the family of Jean Smith, 83, a retired hairdresser with dementia. Smith was hospitalized three times in early 2021, once when she hit her head and twice for dehydration.

Concerned family members sent a travel nurse to check on Smith, who was found living in “totally undignified conditions,” said Black, who’s also representing the family of Jean Smith.

Smith was naked and living in a bug-infested and trash-strewn apartment, prompting her family to remove her from the facility. 

The facility and its owners and management, all named in the suits, failed to comply with state regulations that govern supportive living facilities and the care they are supposed to provide, Black said.

The suits seek unspecified monetary damages.

Paul Stewart, a spokesman for New City and its owner, Scott Henry, said Tuesday afternoon that he hadn’t seen the lawsuits and wasn’t in a position to comment.

According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, ​Illinois developed the supportive living program as an alternative to nursing home care for low-income older persons and persons with physical disabilities under Medicaid.

“These supportive living facilities are supposed to be a better environment for people who are more functional but at a low-income cost, but that doesn’t mean discounted services, it means the same services that anyone paying full price anywhere would get,” Black said.

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