The Chicago Police Department said it appeared to be a suicide. The Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner said it was an accident. But when 84-year-old Bennie Saxon fell four stories to his death May 4 at a predominantly black South Side nursing home, a lawyer retained by his family said it could be neglect.

An investigation by The Chicago Reporter found that the facility has the worst rating a nursing home can get–”three times the number of lawsuits of half of Chicago nursing homes–”and that residents get less than half the time each day with staff than residents at a predominantly white facility in Evanston operated by the same owner.

Saxon, who had dementia, had been living at Alden Wentworth Rehabilitation and Health Care Center at 201 W. 69th Street in Greater Grand Crossing for about four weeks before his fatal fall, family members said. His family has retained attorney Thomas H. Murphy of the Vrdolyak Law Group to investigate whether Saxon received adequate care. “The law requires that [homes] take danger and fall precautions into account for people who are at risk for falling,” Murphy said.

Murphy is awaiting autopsy reports and said a lawsuit could be filed within weeks. If so, it will be the 14th in Cook County court filed against the nursing home between 2004 and 2009, according to Cook County records obtained by the Reporter. That’s more than three times the lawsuits than half of the city’s 91 nursing homes; the median is four lawsuits.

At least one of those cases has been settled. In 2006, Alden Wentworth paid $600,000 related to the November 2000 death of Bernetta Hall, a disabled 46-year-old woman.

Hall entered the home with a single pressure ulcer at the base of her spine. But within five weeks, that ulcer worsened and she developed sores on her heels, buttock and ear because of the poor care she received at the home, said Lawrence B. Finn, the lawyer for Hall’s family.

Alden’s management, owner, spokesperson and in-house lawyer declined to comment. The Greater Grand Crossing facility is owned by Floyd Schlossberg of Morton Grove, Ill. He is one of the state’s largest nursing home owners, operating some of the lowest-rated nursing home facilities in Illinois.

Schlossberg has ownership in 30 homes in Illinois, most in metropolitan Chicago, according to data the Reporter obtained from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The Reporter analyzed federal nursing home data and racial data on 21 of the homes provided by researchers at Brown University and found racial disparities in the care that Schlossberg’s residents received.

The Reporter found:

–¢ Each of the three predominantly black facilities received the lowest possible rating in 2009 from Nursing Home Compare, a federal database to evaluate nursing homes that are Medicare- and Medicaid-certified. Less than half of Schlossberg’s 16 predominantly white facilities received that same rating.

–¢ Two facilities received the highest ratings. At both facilities, located in Evanston and Skokie, at least 84 percent of the residents were white.

–¢ Residents at Schlossberg’s predominantly black homes received much less staff time than residents of his predominantly white facilities. For example, residents at Alden Estates of Evanston received an average of 5.53 hours of care per day, compared with 2.04 hours at the Greater Grand Crossing facility and 1.73 hours at the Heather Health Care Center in Harvey, which are both predominantly black. The combined total of daily care given at the three, predominantly-black homes was just 19 minutes more each day than the time at the predominantly-white facility in Evanston.

The Reporter analyzed the percentage of patient care that is paid for by Medicaid on a citywide basis, to determine if poverty could partially explain the disparities. The Reporter found that in Chicago, the disparities between black and white homes were even greater where at least 75 percent of care was paid for by Medicaid.

“The idea that race plays a role in the quality of one facility over another is extremely troubling,” said Zena Naiditch, president and chief executive officer of disability rights advocacy group Equip for Equality, Inc. “It suggests that the state needs to be taking a look at these kinds of issues on a more routine basis. It shouldn’t just be, –˜Is the facility following the law?’ [but] –˜How are the resources being distributed? Is there a disparate impact on different communities?'”

Saxon was buried May 11. Friends and family remembered him as a nattily dressed, gentle man of God.

“I’ve known him for 25 years,” said step-granddaughter Lakeisha Avant. “He was a man of God, a man of the Lord.”

“He was a loving, kind brother,” said Bernice Henderson, 83 and Saxon’s former neighbor at Bethel Terrace, a residential facility for seniors in the Englewood neighborhood. “He was a neatly dressed brother –¦ who dressed like he was going to church, even to take his garbage out.”

Jeff is the founder and executive director of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) and the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professor of Civil Discourse at Grand Valley State University....