Mark Friedman, who covers the legal beat for Arkansas Business, has a preternatural ability to spot a good story buried in reams of legal documents. Last month he had a story that is still preying on my mind.
A 20-year-old woman named Joely Clements checked into Rivendell Behavioral Health Services in Benton on March 30, 2018, for treatment of drug addiction. One of the registered nurses who took care of her there was 30-year-old Justin Lusby.
This is an Opinion
She checked out five days later, and later that day Lusby was trying to strike up a personal relationship by text message: “It’s [expletive] insane how attracted I am to you.” He invited her to his apartment, and she arrived the next day.
So this seems bad, right? It gets so much worse, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court.
At Lusby’s apartment, Clements expressed a craving for narcotics. Lusby says he warned her that using heroin would kill her. He told her, “I just want you to feel safe.” He was so concerned about her safety that, on the morning after she arrived at his apartment, he left a young woman he knew to be an addict at risk of a relapse alone in his apartment while he went on a fishing trip. When he returned two days later, Clements was dead from an overdose of fentanyl.
Clements’ father, Andy Clements, promptly hired a lawyer, who instructed Rivendell to preserve all documentation about the case, including Lusby’s employment records. Only then did Rivendell fire Lusby.
Why it took almost two weeks to fire a nurse who seduced a vulnerable patient and then left her alone for days is no harder to fathom than why Lusby was hired in the first place. It turns out that he, too, had a history of drug abuse, which led him to steal prescription narcotics when he worked at Ouachita County Medical Center in Camden. He confessed rather than take a random drug test, and the Arkansas State Board of Nursing put him on probation for five years.
With that on his record, it was naturally hard to get work. He applied for scores of nursing jobs, but only Rivendell even offered him an interview. He was hired in March 2015, and it turned out to be the perfect place for Lusby. He struck up a sexual relationship with the director of patient advocacy, according to the lawsuit filed by Clements’ estate, so that any patient who complained about his performance would be complaining to his lover.
And while he was written up internally for poor performance and unprofessional conduct, the official report that Rivendell sent to the nursing board said Lusby’s work was “exceptional.”
There’s nothing the ASBN could do about Rivendell covering up for a nurse who was already on probation because, according to Executive Director Sue Tedford, the board has no authority over any institution. The ASBN did take additional action against Lusby — by extending his probation until 2023. It seems the nursing board found him guilty only of “a boundary crossing” in his relationship with a drug addict who had been his patient only hours earlier.
I get angry every time I think of what the Clements family has gone through, and there’s still one more outrage to come. Rivendell’s management company, UHS of Delaware Inc., destroyed evidence despite being put on notice by the Clements family’s lawyer, including the email accounts of Lusby and the former human resources director. Rivendell also couldn’t find notes from a 2017 investigation into a sexual relationship Lusby allegedly had with another patient.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce found that UHS had intentionally destroyed evidence and ruled in favor of Clements’ estate. Unless an appeal is successful, the only thing left to determine is the amount of the damages.
Any business can make a bad hire. The hospital in Camden hired Lusby, but it had policies in place that identified his impairment, got rid of him and reported him to the board of nursing. Contrast that with Rivendell’s hiring of a nurse still on professional probation for a drug problem to work with drug addicts, and then protecting him to the point of destroying evidence. This feels like a systemic problem.
The fact that there is no law preventing nurses from dating patients also feels like a systemic problem. Perhaps a legislator will take an interest.
Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.