Disabled Iowa woman wins $13,225 settlement after management tries to force her into nursing home

Melva Platt, a disabled woman living in Strawberry Point, Iowa agreed to accept $13,225 and affirmative relief to settle her HUD complaint against the operators of Strawberry Point Lutheran Home for the Aged. Platt had asserted that the operators of the home, where she has resided for many years, tried to force her out of the independent living section of the community and into a nursing home facility. When she refused, the management began eviction proceedings against her.

Platt began living at the Gernand Retirement Center for Independent Living in 1986. The Center is owned and operated as part of the Strawberry Point Lutheran Home (SPLH). Platt uses wheelchair and has done so since 1949, when an automobile accident caused an injury to her spine. When Platt moved into the Gernand Center in 1986, she signed an agreement that stated that she would willingly move into the nursing home facility at Strawberry Point Lutheran Home, if it was determined that she could no longer live independently. The agreement required the management to consult with physicians to ascertain whether someone could continue to live independently.

On April 30, 2001, Platt received a letter from Joan Steffen, the executive director of SPLH. The letter stated that Platt was no longer able to live independently. Further, Steffen contended, “Your placement in our independent Gernand Retirement Center is no longer in compliance to the guidelines set up in our licensure for this facility.” Platt responded to Steffen’s letter, insisting that her condition had not changed since she moved into the Center, and that she should be allowed to live independently.

Platt then received a letter from Dennis Hamann, the chairperson of SPLH’s board of directors, on June 22, 2001. Hamann’s letter stated that it was no longer appropriate for Platt to live in the independent living center. Hamann told Platt to be prepared to move out of her apartment no later than August 1, 2001.

Doctors argued woman could live independently

On July 6, 2001, Platt’s doctor faxed a letter to SPLH stating that Platt’s condition had not changed in the years since she moved into her apartment, except for the fact that she was aging. Despite the letter from her doctor, the board of SPLH voted to evict Platt from her apartment on July 19. Platt filed a complaint with HUD on July 27, 2001. The investigation into Platt’s complaint revealed that SPLH’s own physician refused to advise the management to move Platt out of the independent living center and into the nursing home. The company also refused to take the advice of Platt’s physicians. The investigation also revealed that the independent living center was not required to be licensed,despite what Steffen had said in her letter.

On December 20, 2002, HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination. In January 2003, Administrative Law Judge Arthur A. Liberty set a discovery deadline and a date for an administrative hearing. In February 2003, the parties agreed to a Consent Order to resolve the complaint. The monetary portion of the complaint includes $8,500 cash to be paid to Platt and nine months of rent-free living at the center. The Order also requires SPLH’s board to attend fair housing training and give notice of the settlement to all of its residents and employees.

HUD v. Strawberry Point Lutheran Home
Case No. HUD ALJ 07-01-0584-8
The Honorable Arthur A. Liberty, Admin. Law Judge
Jim Burns, attorney for plaintiff
HUD complaint filed: July 27, 2001