By KYW community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office has filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against a nursing home operator with dozens of locations around the state, alleging that elderly residents were left hungry and unkempt.

But the nursing home chain says that attorney general Kathleen Kane is pursuing the lawsuit as retaliation and to obtain high fees for a connected legal firm.

The 100+ page complaint alleges deceptive and unfair trade practices against Golden Gate National Senior Care LLC.  The group runs 300 “Golden Living” nursing homes in 22 states.

The lawsuit cites problems such as residents left to stew in their own waste for hours or falling from lack of supervision.  Officials also say staffers falsified records to indicate residents had received services when they had not.

“They misled the consumers through their marketing and advertising practices, saying they would offer a level of care that in fact our investigation revealed they were not offering their residents,” says Jeffrey Johnson, a spokesman for state attorney general Kathleen Kane.

He says the investigation was based in part on interviews with former employees and family members of residents. And he says the major problem seems to be understaffing.

“They would bump up the staffing when Department of Health employees came by for inspections,” says Johnson.

The chain has more than a dozen facilities in the state, including three in the Philadelphia area.

“Unfortunately, we think this may be the tip of the iceberg,” says Sam Brooks, an attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which issued a report just three weeks ago citing major problems at Philadelphia nursing homes including Golden Living.

Community Legal Services is calling for stricter enforcement by the state’s department of health.

“We hope that this is the catalyst to systemic change statewide,” Brooks says of the new lawsuit.

Pennsylvania secretary of health Karen Murphy said in a statement that she is “deeply concerned by the allegations of inadequate care in 14 nursing homes operated by Golden Senior Living identified in the lawsuit.”  In the statement, she said her department is taking steps toward better enforcement, including engaging the state’s auditor general, and is forming a Pennsylvania Nursing Home Quality Improvement Task Force.

In response, Dr. Neil Kurtz, CEO of Golden Living, issued the following statement on Thursday afternoon:

“Golden Living is confident that claims made by the Attorney General are baseless and wholly without merit.  No doubt, this is an unfortunate result of Kathleen Kane’s inappropriate and questionable relationship with a Washington, DC-based plaintiff’s firm that preys on legitimate businesses and is paid by contingency fees.  Golden Living also believes that this complaint is in retaliation for our challenging the Attorney General’s authority in a pending lawsuit. We plan to vigorously defend the reputation of Golden Living and its employees.”