Woman who refused to sue continues to fight bill

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published September 7, 2006, 11:08 a.m.)

Marion Barker hasn't paid a dime, but now owes half as much to Walworth County for her late husband's final few weeks of care at Lakeland Health Care Center.

The county originally filed a small claims suit against Barker seeking $5,000 for allegedly overdue bills. It reduced that amount to $2,500, said Barker's daughter, Laurie Engen.

That's still too much, since the 88-year-old Barker never received a bill, Engen said.

"Mom is saying she doesn't want to pay that," Engen said.

Brent Barker died at the county-run nursing home on July 4, 2000, after tripping over another patient in a hallway. He hit a box fan and other things during the fall and died from the injuries, said friend Chuck Gerhartz, who witnessed the incident.

Gerhartz told Marion Barker she should sue the county for wrongful death, but she never did.

"It's just her. She's not somebody who goes after people," Engen said. "She wanted it done and over with."

The county's summons to Barker, sent out a few weeks ago, has brought back painful memories, Engen said.

"This is really wearing on her," Engen said.

"Our response has been that this is really unfair to an 88-year-old person after six years without a bill. It's just flipped her life over."

Walworth County hired attorney Steve Koch out of Elkhorn to try and collect from Barker and several others with outstanding bills.

Koch, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, said earlier that the county has proof it asked for payment of Brent Barker's bill.

"I wouldn't bring it, otherwise," Koch said earlier.

Supervisor Bob Arnold, who is on the Lakeland Health Care Center Board of Trustees, said the county is following its' collection procedures for outstanding bills and seeking money it's owed.

The county board and the board of trustees have the option to drop the lawsuit.

Supervisor Joe Guido, a board trustee, said if the suit weren't settled by the board's next meeting, he would bring up a resolution to have it withdrawn.

"Six years down the road is way too long to go backward and try to collect $5,000," Guido said, noting the circumstances surrounding Barker's case.

"Not that I disbelieve our corporation counsel, but I believe this is a family that would not shirk from paying their bills."

Engen said her mother is on a fixed income and $2,500 would put a strain on her financially.

"Whatever savings she has, she needs," Engen said. "Social Security doesn't pay everything. It's not a drop in the bucket."

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