ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Vincent Anthony Accardi Jr. was barred from ever working again in the health care industry in Florida, according to interviews and news reports, after an 85-year-old woman in one of his assisted living homes fell and broke her pelvis, waited 19 hours for medical attention and later died from her injuries.
The home in Lake Mary, Fla., was shut down and Accardi was put on probation after pleading no contest in 2003 to a felony criminal charge of neglecting an elderly person, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, interviews and a case docket record obtained by the Journal.
At the time of his arrest in the neglect case, Accardi was serving six months probation for an unrelated no contest plea to misdemeanor charges that included possession of marijuana and exposure of his sex organs to an undercover sheriff’s officer at a Florida park.
None of that has proven to be a barrier to Accardi’s being licensed to operate assisted living homes in New Mexico – after what Accardi says was an extensive background check by the state.
The state Department of Health has licensed Accardi to run two assisted living homes in Albuquerque’s far Northeast Heights under the New Life Assisted Living LLC. The latest licensure applications on file at the DOH show only Accardi as owning 5 percent or more of the homes on Persimmon Avenue and Layton Place, both located in upscale residential neighborhoods west of Tramway Boulevard.
DOH officials say Accardi’s two homes, initially licensed in 2008 and 2009, are in good standing.
Accardi, 47, told the Journal in a recent telephone interview there have been no problems with residents’ safety or welfare.
“I have great staff and great residents that we’re really helping in filling a need,” he said. The homes, among the 233 assisted living facilities licensed in New Mexico, are each licensed to house five people.
In an initial telephone interview, Accardi told the Journal his criminal neglect case was expunged in Florida, adding, “Whatever’s on my record now is OK with the state of New Mexico.”
In a subsequent interview he said, “I know that I’ve never been convicted of a felony and the state of New Mexico does a pretty large background search … and I did pass that.”
Accardi added that New Mexico licensing officials, “pulled my records and they have all the information that you have as well.”
Asked about misdemeanor marijuana and exposure charges filed as a result of an October 2002 incident at Big Tree Park near Longwood, Fla., Accardi told the Journal, “I don’t think whatever misdemeanor charges – has anything to do with my ability to take care of elderly people in an assisted living environment.”
A spokesman for the health department in New Mexico wouldn’t say whether DOH officials were aware of Accardi’s criminal history, saying only, “Information about background checks is confidential” under state law.
Under New Mexico law, felony crimes involving adult abuse, neglect or financial exploitation are among the convictions that disqualify an applicant or a caregiver seeking state approval to run or work in an assisted living home.
If a person pleaded no contest to the neglect charge, “he/she may or may not be disqualified from operating an Assisted Living Facility in New Mexico,” wrote DOH spokesman Kenny Vigil in an email response to Journal questions about Accardi. Applicants have the right to appeal a disqualification, Vigil added.
Accardi was charged with nine counts of neglecting an elderly person after rescue workers were called to the assisted living home in Lake Mary, Fla., twice in four days in early 2003, the Florida newspaper reported.
According to the newspaper report, most of the nine residents suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and authorities discovered that staff looking after them had no health care credentials.
The prosecutor handling the case, who is now a judge in Seminole County, Fla., recalled in a recent interview with the Journal that neighbors made phone calls to the Lake Mary police after noticing residents of the home “wandering around” unsupervised outside.
One employee at the home was arrested after police learned there was a 19-hour delay in seeking medical attention for the 85-year-old resident who fell and broke her pelvis, according to the Florida newspaper.
Three days later, rescue workers were called to treat a resident who was bleeding after a fall. That incident led authorities to discover fire safety violations, the newspaper reported.
Authorities also discovered there were three too many residents living in the home, and the only worker present didn’t have the required training in first aid and CPR and was dispensing medication without training, according to the Sentinel newspaper.
Police shut down the home and residents were transferred to other facilities, the newspaper stated.
According to the report, Accardi told police he hired the worker for $100 a day to replace an employee who had left. Accardi told police he couldn’t afford the $450 to $480 a day that temporary services would charge for a qualified worker.
He pleaded no contest in August 2003 to neglecting a resident, according to the newspaper report. A summary of the case obtained by the Journal shows the charge was a second-degree felony.
Jerri Collins, a county court judge in Seminole County, prosecuted Accardi in her previous job with the Seminole County state attorney’s office.
Collins told the Journal she was surprised Accardi was operating assisted living homes in New Mexico.
“…The whole reason for the plea is (for him to) get out of this business,” Collins said. “Because that’s what the victims all wanted – the families all wanted. Just give up your license, we’ll put you on probation and you’re never going to work in the health care field again in Florida.”
Accardi said he didn’t recall such a ban, but Collins said “that was part of the (plea) deal.”
The Florida agency that licenses assisted living homes couldn’t verify the ban ever existed, citing the fact that the “case is old and past our public record retention schedule,” according to an email from Shelisha Coleman, press secretary for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
However, she stated in her email that the agency denied a license for one of Accardi’s three assisted living homes for failing to carry commercial liability insurance in 2002 and was in the process of taking administrative action against two others when they closed.
Accardi has told the DOH in New Mexico he didn’t own the property at the time of the denial and furnished a copy of the change of ownership.
New Mexico licensing forms ask whether any listed owner has ever been convicted of a felony and whether the on-site administrator or director attests that the statements on the application are true and correct.
In applications filed from 2012 to 2014, something was written in response to the question about a felony conviction. But the answer was blacked out or obscured on copies of the applications furnished to the Journal by the DOH. Accardi signed off on the forms.
Prior to 2012, another partner in the company signed off on the applications.
Department of Health spokesman Vigil said the DOH obscured the answers to comply with New Mexico’s caregivers criminal history screening law, which states that criminal history records are confidential.
Accardi’s neglect case doesn’t show up in the files of the Seminole County court, nor its prosecutor’s office.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office in Seminole County told the Journal recently that the lack of a record “would indicate to me that he’s had the record expunged.”
Under Florida law, criminal cases expunged by court order require state prosecutors and arresting agencies to remove all mention of the prosecution from their files.
To qualify for expunging, a judge must have withheld a final adjudication of guilt. It’s unclear whether that occurred in Accardi’s case because of the lack of a court record.
In the initial interview with the Journal, Accardi said his case was expunged, but in a follow-up interview he said he wasn’t sure whether it was expunged.
The Orlando newspaper in an editorial decried the practice in 2007, noting about 10,000 people had their criminal cases expunged in the year prior. The issue came before the Florida Supreme Court but the practice continues today.
When the first of the two homes Accardi operates in Albuquerque opened in 2008, a friend and associate of Accardi’s, Michael Gatti, was the primary spokesman for their newly formed company, New Life Assisted Living LLC.
Gatti, Accardi and a third partner were listed as owners.
In license applications filed between 2008 and 2011, Gatti also attested to being the on-site director or operator, who under state law is to be responsible for the day-to-day operations.
But a DOH inquiry based on a complaint received in March 2012 found that Gatti was usually at the Persimmon facility only once a month. Prior license applications show he gave a local address but listed a Washington, D.C., area phone number for his contact information.
Gatti was also not the person whom two New Life employees identified as the “supervisor and administrator of daily operations,” at the Persimmon home, according to a 2012 survey report by the DOH.
To correct the matter, Accardi applied as the administrator of New Life in 2012 and now signs off on the license renewals. On earlier applications, his name only appeared as a co-owner. He told the Journal he served as marketing director.
Accardi told the Journal recently that he became the on-site administrator in 2012 after the legal requirements changed.
The law was amended two years earlier in 2010, according to a DOH spokesman, requiring that the person responsible for day-to-day operations also be a full-time administrator.
Gatti didn’t respond to Journal phone and email requests for comment.
But in a February 2007 open letter reviewed by the Journal, Gatti described the New Life home on Persimmon.
In the letter, he noted “a shortage of assisted living facilities in Albuquerque” and said the owners’ goal was “to provide an upscale environment with the level of care people need to live happy, healthy lives.”
Gatti’s letter introduced Accardi by saying he “has nearly 20 years in the health care field from medical sales to senior care. Vince ran his own chain of 10 assisted living homes before selling it 5 years ago to follow his dream of helping athletes in track and field achieve what is many of their lifelong dreams of going to the Olympics.”
Accardi told the Journal he came to Albuquerque to see the International Balloon Fiesta.
“And I just fell in love and I’m a snowboarder and I like New Mexico.”