State investigating nursing home where woman accused of war crimes worked

Powell resident being held for alleged war crimes

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comApril 5, 2011 

U.S. marshals escorted Azra Basic into the Federal Courthouse in Lexington on March 17, 2011 to appear on charges of committing war crimes against ethnic Serbs in 1992.

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services said Monday it is investigating the Stanton nursing home where Azra Bašic worked. Bašic is wanted to stand trial in Bosnia for alleged war crimes including murdering and torturing civilians.

"The cabinet is aware of the situation and has an open investigation of the facility," said Gwenda Bond, a cabinet spokeswoman.

Bašic also worked at Tanbark Health Care Center in Lexington from 2003 to 2005 in the kitchen and as a nurse's aide, said Conjuna Collier, an administrator for Tanbark.

Bond, reached late Monday, said she would not be able to determine until Tuesday whether there was an investigation at Tanbark.

The administrators of both nursing homes said criminal background checks did not reveal any reason not to hire Bašic.

"We had no prior knowledge of this situation and are as surprised as everyone else regarding this individual's true identity," said Christy King, administrator of the Stanton Nursing Center.

Bašic, also known as Issabell Bašic when she lived in Powell County, was arrested last month by the U.S. Marshals Service and accused of torturing and murdering ethnic Serbs at prison camps from April to June 1992, during the Bosnian civil war. Witnesses to those alleged crimes said she wore a Croatian army uniform at the time, according to federal court documents.

Bašic allegedly set a man's hands and face on fire after he was forced to drink gasoline and was beaten unconscious, according to court documents. And witnesses said she killed another man by slitting his throat.

She is being held at the Fayette County Detention Center.

King said in a statement Monday that because of employee confidentiality, she could not comment on Bašic or her employment, including exactly when she worked at the facility or in what position.

"As part of our normal protocol, we conduct criminal background checks on all employees prior to hiring them," King's statement said. "There was nothing in this individual's history that would have prevented us from hiring her."

Lexington attorney Patrick Nash, who is representing Bašic in her extradition proceedings, declined to comment.

Bašic, 51, was working at a frozen food plant in Mount Sterling just before her arrest. A former resident of the Stanton nursing home told the Herald-Leader that Bašic was working at the nursing home in 2008.

The Stanton nursing home is a 81-bed facility that is owned by Wisconsin-based Extendicare Homes, according to the facility's 2010 application for a state license.

King said in an interview that no law enforcement agency had contacted her.

Citing the nursing home's confidentiality policy, King said she could not answer a question about whether the nursing home investigated to see whether there were any complaints against Bašic while she was working there.

However, "we will cooperate fully with any law enforcement investigation as necessary," she said in a statement.

"This is a situation that occurred a long time ago and does not involve any residents at this health center," King said in the statement. "We are proud of our staff and their commitment to the long-term care profession and we take our responsibility to our residents very seriously."

Collier, of Tanbark, said: "We did everything we were supposed to do according to the regulations."

Tanbark is a 34-bed facility owned by Senior Care Operations Holdings.

Henrietta Kirchner said that she was a resident of the Stanton facility for a week in 2008 after breaking her leg and that Bašic was working there at the time.

Kirchner described Bašic as a hard worker. "She was very diligent," she said.

The United States' representative to the International Criminal Police Organization found Bašic in Kentucky by 2004, according to a court document. But it took six more years for Bosnian officials to provide U.S. officials with the necessary information about the case.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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