New York's largest for-profit SNF operator kept nurses in 'indentured servitude,' lawsuit claims

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New York's largest for-profit nursing home group allegedly kept more than 350 Filipino nurses in “indentured servitude” and sued those who tried to quit, according to a class action complaint filed last week.

The complaint was filed against SentosaCare by former employee and registered nurse Rose Ann Paguirigan. She said she was recruited from the Philippines to work for SentosaCare and eventually signed a contract to work for a Staten Island facility operated by the provider.

The contract stated that Paguirigan would be employed full time as a registered nurse and paid a base salary; instead, she was employed as an RN manager, given 35 hours of work each week and paid less than the wage stated in the contract.

Similar contracts were signed by hundreds of other foreign nurses recruited by the company, although SentosaCare and its recruiter, Prompt Nursing Recruitment Agency, have “policies and practices” to not give foreign nurses full time work or pay them the prevailing wage, Paguirigan's complaint states.

The filing also claims that the provider maintains a “deliberate scheme, pattern and plan” meant to convince foreign nurses that they would “suffer serious harm” if they quit the company or tried to find work elsewhere. This scheme included a reported $25,000 penalty placed in the nurses' contracts that they must pay if they left SentosaCare before the end of their contract term.

Paguirigan argues that a local court found the $25,000 “Indentured Servitude Penalty” unenforceable in 2010, but that SentosaCare, Prompt Nursing and its owners continue to use the penalty in its foreign nursing contracts.

The provider has filed lawsuits against at least 30 nurses since 2006 to collect the penalty, and has sought criminal indictments against at least 10 nurses and a lawyer retained to advise them, according to the complaint.

“The purpose of these lawsuits against plaintiff and other foreign nurses was not to recover actual losses, but to send a message to all foreign nurses that they will face civil litigation and incur substantial attorneys' fees if they stop working for the defendants,” the complaint reads.

McKnight's requests for comment from SentosaCare were not returned by production deadline on Monday.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages or Paguirigan and other foreign nurses, as well as an injunction barring SentosaCare from threatening to enforce Indentured Servitude Penalties in their contracts, and a declaration that Indentured Servitude Penalties are unenforceable.

SentosaCare has previously been criticized in a ProPublica report for its rapid growth amidst fines and violations.