Attorney General Mayes Targets Illegal Secrecy Clauses in Long-Term Care Facilities

Attorney General Mayes Targets Illegal Secrecy Clauses in Long-Term Care Facilities

Attorney General Kris Mayes has filed a lawsuit to nullify a secrecy clause that was imposed on the family of a man who died from neglect in a long-term care facility. The clause contravenes Arizona law, which mandates notification to the Attorney General in cases involving the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of vulnerable adults.

“Secrecy clauses like those imposed on this victim’s family are not only illegal, but they also block me from doing my job of protecting vulnerable adults,” said Attorney General Mayes. “The court should invalidate the secrecy clause in this case and others that are illegally concealing instances of abuse and neglect from the public.”

Robert Knight was admitted to the Sun West Choice Health & Rehab facility in July 2019. Married with two children, Mr. Knight tragically suffered from dementia and other conditions that left him essentially immobile, despite being only 58 years old.

Bedbound patients like Mr. Knight are among Arizona’s most vulnerable citizens, requiring the highest levels of care. Patients need to be turned in their beds every two hours to prevent pressure sores, and these adjustments should be documented in the patient’s care records. The lawsuit alleges hundreds of instances where Mr. Knight should have been turned but were not recorded.

In March 2022, Mr. Knight was found face-down on the floor of his room with a bleeding nose and a massive bed sore measuring 4 by 6 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep. A few days later, Mr. Knight passed away. The autopsy revealed that his cause of death was bacterial pneumonia and a rare bone infection caused by the bed sore.

Mr. Knight’s spouse, Wendy Knight, filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and her children against Sun West Choice, alleging abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult. Sun West Choice sought to enforce an arbitration agreement signed by Ms. Knight when she moved Mr. Knight into the facility. This agreement included a secrecy clause so broad that the Knight family was not even allowed to reveal “the existence and subject of the arbitration.”

However, such clauses are illegal. The legislature passed the Adult Protective Services Act to protect vulnerable adults by increasing transparency and enhancing the powers and duties of the Attorney General.

“When families are forced to keep silent about abuse and neglect because of illegal arbitration agreements, the system cannot work as intended,” said Attorney General Mayes. “Any arbitration agreement that blocks victims from reporting their claims to the Attorney General violates Arizona law and cannot be enforced.”

The Attorney General’s lawsuit extends beyond the Knight family. The Ensign Group, Inc., which operates dozens of facilities in Arizona with more than 5,000 total beds, is also targeted. Attorney General Mayes has asked the court to invalidate the secret arbitration clauses for every patient in every facility operated by The Ensign Group, Inc.

This is the second time in recent months that Attorney General Mayes has intervened in a lawsuit to eliminate a secrecy clause. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office will continue to challenge such clauses as often as necessary to ensure care facilities cease presenting these illegal agreements to stressed-out families as part of the admissions process.

“Keeping abuse and neglect secret is not just illegal, it’s wrong,” continued Attorney General Mayes. “The Legislature banned these secrecy clauses decades ago, but for decades facilities have been using them anyway. I intend to put a stop to it and carry out the legislative intent of transparency in the care of vulnerable adults.”

The case Attorney General Mayes is seeking to intervene in is Knight v. Sunwest Choice Health and Rehab, et al., Maricopa County Superior Court number CV2024-007103. The case is being handled for the Attorney General’s Office by Assistant Attorney General Shane Ham.