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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Criminal investigation underway after developmentally disabled woman dies from vinegar

Doug Nadvornick / Spokane Public Radio
This Spokane home is where a caregiver allegedly gave Marion Wilson, a 64-year-old developmentally disabled woman, a fatal dose of cleaning vinegar instead of colonosocopy prep solution. A state criminal investigation into the death is now underway.

The Medicaid fraud division of the Washington Attorney General’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the death of a developmentally disabled woman who died last February in Spokane.

The existence of the state’s investigation, which began in August, has not been previously reported. The Spokane Police Department said it contacted the Attorney General's office after deciding not to investigate the case itself. That decision came after the Spokane County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident. 

The woman, Marion K. Wilson, 64, died after her caregiver, who was employed by Aacres Washington, allegedly gave her household cleaning vinegar instead of colonoscopy prep medication. The medical examiner determined Wilson died as a result of severe damage to her esophagus, stomach and small bowel caused by the cleaning-strength vinegar.

As part of its investigation, the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Division sought and received a judge’s approval this week to conduct a search for records at Embassy Management, LLC in Spokane, the parent company of Aacres Washington.

In his affidavit in support of the search warrant, the investigator, David Fenn, wrote that he believed Wilson’s caregiver committed second degree manslaughter, third degree assault and first degree theft. The alleged theft would likely stem from Medicaid having paid for Wilson’s medical care in the hospital, which was the result of improper care.

The caregiver, who the Northwest News Network is not naming because she hasn’t been charged with a crime, has not made a statement to investigators about what happened, according to the search warrant affidavit. Efforts to reach the caregiver on Friday were not successful. She was reportedly fired from Aacres Washington following Wilson’s death.

The search warrant seeks access to Embassy Management’s computers, hard drives, cell phones and other electronic storage media. However, it does not appear the company itself is a target of the investigation.

The Attorney General’s office typically doesn’t acknowledge ongoing investigations and would not comment on the investigation.

In a statement late Friday, an Embassy Management spokesperson said: "[W]e take the health and safety of our clients extremely seriously and were devastated by the death of this individual ... We are cooperating fully with investigators."

The Medicaid Fraud Division is tasked with investigating and prosecuting provider fraud, as well as cases involving the abuse or neglect of patients in facilities that receive Medicaid payments.

According to the 17-page affidavit, the investigation began in August following a formal criminal investigation request from Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services. It’s not clear if criminal charges will ultimately be filed in the case.

Following Wilson’s death, the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration cancelled its contracts with Aacres Washington for in-home care of developmentally disabled clients in the Spokane area.

Later, the state’s Residential Care Services division decertified those contracts based on a “history of noncompliance.” Aacres Washington is currently appealing that decertification.

*This story has been updated to reflect the fact the Spokane Police Department contacted the Attorney General's office regarding the death of Marion K. Wilson.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."