Assisted living facility charged with staggering neglect, manslaughter, swindle

Theresa Olson and her staff allegedly let residents sit in their own filth and improperly handled medical care, all while ripping off the Department of Health and Medicaid.

Theresa Olson and her staff allegedly let residents sit in their own filth and improperly handled medical care, all while ripping off the Department of Health and Medicaid. Aitkin County Jail

Back in 2017, a 72-year-old Marine Corps veteran moved into his new home. It was a place called Chappy’s Golden Shores: an assisted living facility in Hill City, Minnesota, run by Theresa Lee Olson and several members of her family. He would need plenty of care and attention. He’d been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, pressure ulcers, a case of pneumonia that never quite went away, and the lingering effects of a stroke.

His name hasn’t been released to the public, but in a lengthy complaint filed against Chappy’s on Monday, he was simply called R.M. Quick warning—the story of his time there does not end well for him, and the details are pretty disturbing. 

By 2018, he’d developed a bedsore his tailbone. Hospice care nurses told the staff at Chappy’s he would have to be repositioned every two hours so he didn’t spend too much time sitting on his wound, and of course, it would have to be kept clean.

Former Chappy’s staff say that isn’t what happened—that R.M. was left to sit on the sore for hours, even left to stew in his own soiled underwear. There were nights when everyone went to sleep and R.M. was left to languish until morning, days when he’d be dumped in a recliner and end up “soaked in urine and waste from his mid-back to his knees,” according to the complaint.

His health worsened. He started “coughing and wheezing.” Pus oozed from his catheter. His temperature was high, his blood pressure was low, and he was vomiting. By the time he was finally airlifted to St. Mary’s Intensive Care Unit, he was described by a nurse as “filthy and unkempt,” with “what appeared to be a cigarette burn on his arm, a filthy catheter, and a groin caked in yeast.”

The wound on his back was “black” and so foul it could be smelled throughout the entire nine-bedroom ICU. The nurses started using masks and Vick’s Vapo-Rub to combat the odor. He died there at the hospital, after his organs gave way to septic shock.

According to the complaint, R.M. isn’t the only resident at Chappy’s to end up neglected and hurt. There was reportedly a man who didn’t get checked out regularly by a nurse and ended up at the hospital with brain bleed, a woman with balance issues who slipped on an icy deck and was not treated for her broken hip for hours, a paralyzed man who complained of multiple UTI infections and the occasional splitting pain when his supply of meds ran dry, the list goes on.

By the end of 2018, the state had started relocating Chappy’s residents to other homes. By early 2019, the facility was officially under investigation. What officials reportedly found in over a million pages of evidence and dozens of interviews surpassed even the grisly accounts of mistreatment.

According to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, Theresa and certain members of her staff not only subjected their residents to neglect, but scammed Minnesota’s Medicaid program out of over $2 million since 2017 by billing for health care services that were either not covered or not rendered. At certain points in the past two years, former staff say there wasn’t a single registered nurse on staff at all.

Once the state started poking around, Theresa and her husband conspicuously withdrew a whopping $1.7 million from Chappy’s bank account. To make matters worse, staff members allegedly scrambled to forge official documents and conceal evidence of fraud. A dry erase board seized by investigators seemed to contain a script for employees to follow when officials asked them questions about what was going on.

After the department of health summarily yanked away Chappy’s license, the complaint says, Theresa just sold it to her daughter, Monika, for a dollar. It was reopened in Monika’s name and renamed “Mont Royal.” The state wouldn’t approve it for licensure, but Theresa and her crew kept running the place anyway.

In July, Monika claimed in Aitkin County Court that this was totally above-board, as Mont Royal was just an “apartment complex” and didn’t provide any health care services. That’s not what residents say, according to the complaint. Apartment complex staff, after all, don’t usually give you meds or bathe you.

The whole thing amounted to, as the complaint calls it, a “long-running scheme to defraud the Medicaid program”—all on the backs of suffering residents. Thanks to reams of paperwork and surveillance footage, we now know the price of R.M.’s pain, indignity, and eventual death.

Ten people—including Theresa, Monika, several other members of the Olson family, and other managers and staff members—have been charged with a combined total of 76 counts of manslaughter, assault, neglect, racketeering, theft, and more, plus perjury for attempting to cover it up. Theresa herself claims a whopping 25 of them. They were arrested mere hours later.