By Jim Nelson | November 2, 2023
BUCKS COUNTY, PA — Two former administrators at a Bucks County memory-care facility have been sentenced for up to two years in county jail for failing to report on-campus sexual assaults of three female dementia patients by a male dementia patient.
Former Director of Health and Wellness Joy Alfonsi and former General Manager Ashley Harker served at the community, previously known as The Landing of Southampton, in Upper Southampton Township, Pennsylvania, until October 2021. The two women were reportedly terminated when the investigation became public, according to Leisure Care LLC, which operated the community at the time.
Harker and Alfonsi were each sentenced to serve three to 24 months at the Bucks County Correctional facility, followed by six years of probation. The sentence also included a mandate that neither woman work in the health care field again.
In January 2023, the women each pleaded guilty to three counts of endangering the welfare of a care-dependent person, a felony that carried a maximum 21-year prison sentence (seven years for each count).
Bucks County Court Judge Gary B. Gillman reportedly acknowledged at the sentencing that both women appeared remorseful and had dedicated their careers to serving others, but he also noted that they failed to act on multiple opportunities to do the right thing, and therefore their punishment needed to discourage similar behavior in other similar communities that house vulnerable people.
“This case is about having a moral compass, and needing one to protect those who can’t help themselves,” Gillman said as he sentenced the pair. “How you got to the point where you callously didn’t report sexual assaults and then lied to the families of the victims, I do not know.”
State investigators were notified of the sexual assaults in August 2021, weeks after the incidents, by staff members at The Landing of Southampton who made anonymous reports. Investigators, along with local police, found that the assaults took place in common areas at the memory-care community; the male resident, 88, who had been transferred to the memory-care unit just one week earlier, reportedly fondled or sexually assaulted the female residents and in each instance, a staff member needed to pull him away.
According to the Attorney General’s office, staff members told Harker and Alfonsi of the abuse; the women said they would handle the situation and told the staff not to document the incidents. Officials also said that Alfonsi and Harker never notified the victims’ families or designated representatives of the incidents.
The AG’s office also maintained that not only did they fail to report the first incident of abuse, the women also allowed the man to stay in the memory-care unit, which made the subsequent assaults possible.
The man was not charged because of his own diminished capacity, and he was ultimately moved to another facility.
According to Deputy Attorney General Benjamin McKenna, the reports that Harker and Alfonsi did eventually file were “sanitized” and failed to include documentation about the assaults.
“This is about broken trust,” McKenna said. “To be betrayed by this kind of carelessness, this recklessness, that’s something that we as a society need to take seriously.”
Relatives of the victims gave emotional statements at the sentencing.
“I expected the defendants to give her the attention she deserved at the time she needed it the most,” Melissa Friedman, the daughter of one of the victims, was reported in a Philadelphia Inquirer article to have said. “Had they taken the actions they were legally required to, they could’ve prevented these disgusting assaults.”
One unidentified woman said that her late mother was assaulted just one month after she moved into The Landing, according to an article in the Bucks County Courier Times. At the time, the mother was relegated to a wheelchair and had difficulty communicating. The woman said she visited her mother in the community every day, but she didn’t learn of her mother’s sexual assault until a Department of Aging representative called her two months after the incident. When confronted about the allegations, Alfonsi and Harker denied it, the daughter said.
“I understand that things happen in memory care, but I don’t understand why anyone thought this shouldn’t be reported,” the daughter said according to the Bucks County Courier Times article.
Alfonsi and Harker each took turns apologizing to the victims’ families.
“There was zero malicious intent,” Alfonsi is reported to have said at the sentencing. “All I ever wanted to do was be a nurse. I’ve paid the price for not reporting. I will live with this for the rest of my life and there is nothing I can do about it.”
“It’s not in me, and not something I’d ever do,” Harker is reported to have said at the sentencing. “I am just so remorseful. I never could have predicted this is where my life and my career would go.”
Another unidentified woman testified that her mother was not the first one assaulted, and she believes Harker and Alfonsi could have prevented it if they didn’t intentionally conceal the first one.
“Instead of doing the right thing, they abused their power,” she reportedly said.
In April 2022 the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services placed The Landing on a provisional operating license, which subjected them to closer state monitoring and inspections. The full license was restored in July 2022, roughly four months after Legend Senior Living took over management of the community — which is now called Province of Southampton — from Leisure Care.
A January 2023 article in Phillyburbs.com reported that Pennsylvania licensing records revealed two to three dozen violations at the facility beginning soon after its February 2020 opening.