Text messages and emails between employees of a Biddeford-based service provider that managed a home where a disabled man died last summer are now part of the criminal investigation into his death.

Norman Fisher died in August, three days after the state placed him with Residential and Community Support Services without his medication. Photo courtesy of the Art Certificate Program of Biddeford

Norman Fisher, 62, died Aug. 27 at a house on Humboldt Street in Portland that was managed by Residential and Community Support Services. He was severely diabetic and was dropped off at the house from the hospital, without his insulin, which he took twice daily. The cause of death, the state medical examiner later determined, was hyperglycemia and ketoacidosis – both related to his diabetes.

Fisher’s death prompted the state to immediately halt new submissions to RCSS and then to sever its Medicaid contract with the provider after it found numerous other instances where RCSS was failing to keep clients safe. The state has since given RCSS another chance after the company submitted an acceptable plan of action to address deficiencies, although approximately two-thirds of its 70 clients have been moved to other Medicaid home service providers.

In addition to an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services Adult Protective Services division, Portland police have been looking into the death for possible criminal charges. Although officials have said little about that investigation, a search warrant affidavit filed last month revealed that local police are working with the Maine Attorney General Office’s healthcare crimes unit.

The search warrant, submitted on Dec. 4 and entered in district court on Jan. 22, reveals that state investigators asked for and received text messages between RCSS employees “related to the care, and subsequent death, of Norman Fisher.” The communications, which cover from Aug. 23 through Nov. 19, were turned over to Adult Protective Services as part of that investigation.

The Adult Protective Services investigator told her Attorney General’s Office counterpart that “the emails and text messages show what RCSS employees knew prior to Fisher’s death and would give me insights as to why medical help was not summoned for Fisher except for the time immediately preceding his death.”

DHHS has not previously confirmed Fisher’s identity but has acknowledged that the Aug. 27 death at an RCSS home prompted the state to temporarily suspend its contract.

Spokeswoman Jackie Farwell said this week that the department “promptly provided this documentation to law enforcement and we continue to cooperate fully with their investigation.”

Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin said his department is still investigating and confirmed that detectives are cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office, but he declined to comment on another agency’s work.

“It’s our case for the death investigation,” Martin said. “I’m not sure of the other investigation or investigations that are occurring.”

The search warrant indicates that investigators are exploring charges of endangering the welfare of a dependent person but it does not name anyone who might be charged. The case is likely to be turned over to prosecutors, who would then determine whether to bring charges.

Endangering the welfare of a dependent person is a Class D misdemeanor if a person “recklessly endangers the health, safety or mental welfare of a dependent person,” and is punishable by up to 365 days in jail. However, the charge is upgraded to a Class C felony if a person “intentionally or knowingly endangers the health, safety or mental welfare of a dependent person.” The maximum penalty for a Class C crime is five years in prison.

The charge is relatively rare. A Wells pastor was charged in 2017 after he allegedly tried to gain legal control of the home and finances of an incapacitated elderly woman.

Fisher spent most of his life in Biddeford. He was born into poverty and lived much of his childhood in foster homes. Because of an intellectual disability, he never learned to read or write, but he held many jobs over the years and, later in life, developed a passion for art.

The state petitioned for guardianship in 2014 after Fisher was found living in squalid conditions in Biddeford. He became a ward of the state the next year. He continued to live in Biddeford until the summer of 2019, when he was evicted from his apartment. He didn’t have a place to move into right away and ended up in a hospital. He stayed there until the state found a placement for him with RCSS, which at that time, managed dozens of small residential homes in southern Maine.

Fisher was dropped off at the Portland home on a Saturday. A nurse told investigators, according to the search warrant, that direct care workers in the home were supposed to be trained on how to test for blood sugar and administer insulin. That training never happened, the document said, and Fisher was not given insulin at any point after he arrived. He died two days later.

The same nurse told investigators that neither she, nor the RCSS in-home staff, would have been able to administer insulin without a doctor’s orders, which they never received.

As for the state’s relationship with RCSS, Farwell said, “The majority of RCSS residents have found alternative placements and we continue to closely monitor the health and safety of the residents who have chosen to remain at RCSS.”

Christine Tiernan, CEO of RCSS, said she and her staff have “worked tirelessly” to satisfy the state’s requests for improvement. She said she hopes the organization will soon begin accepting new arrivals, which are still on hold.

“We have made significant improvements in our operations – including better training, new policies and procedures, and technology upgrades,” said Angie Marquis, the agency’s director of clinical crisis and intakes. “We are proud of the progress we’ve made.”

RCSS also has taken steps to comply with new licensing rules for one- and two-bedroom residential care homes. Those rules were proposed before Fisher’s death, but state officials and other providers have said that incident highlighted the need for better oversight of smaller homes.

Neither Tiernan nor Marquis would answer questions about the criminal investigation of Fisher’s death.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne contributed to this story.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: