The Texas Attorney General’s office recently sued a nursing home sued for neglect. The nursing home, which operates as Brookhaven Nursing Center and is owned and managed by Diversified Healthcare LLC, passed only one state inspection in eight years, according to state records. The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the facility to improve immediately its care, including its emergency procedures.
The lawsuit was filed after the April 2008 death of a female patient whose oxygen machine stopped working during a power outage. The nursing home’s staff left her alone in her room without oxygen. Three hours after the electricity went out, a nurse observed the patient “thrashing around” in her bed. The nurse told state investigators she thought “the resident was simply uncomfortable because the room was extremely hot.” The patient was found dead hours later connected to a “powerless oxygen system.” Investigators discovered the facility had a backup generator and containers with compressed oxygen that could have been used, but the nurse had not received emergency training. The facility’s administrator, owner, and regional manager were either unavailable for comment or declined comment.
I have long wondered why more nursing homes are not the subject of criminal charges and civil enforcement actions by state and federal prosecutors. In Virginia, I have seen reports of a host of criminal prosecutions against family members who were responsible for the care of relatives who developed life-threatening pressure ulcers (pressure sores, bed sores, bedsores, decubitus ulcers) at home. However, I am not aware of a single criminal or civil case filed in Virginia by prosecutors against the corporate owners and operators of nursing homes or assisted living facilities following neglect or abuse of a patient.
I think I am much more tolerant of poor outcomes that result when a relative receives care at home from an individual that has little or no health care training that I am of neglect or abuse that occurs at the hands of those who are supposed to be trained health care professionals. Institutional neglect and abuse results in pressure ulcers (pressure sores, bed sores, bedsores, decubitus ulcers), falls with hip and other fractures and head injuries, medication errors, dehydration, malnutrition and severe weight loss, and patient-to-patient physical and sexual assault and abuse. I have handled far too many civil cases in Virginia involving horrible nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse for anyone to claim that cases appropriate for prosecution do not present themselves frequently enough. I commend the Texas Attorney General for his “get tough” attitude on nursing home neglect and abuse, as well as his willingness to tangle with the institutions that own and operate these facilities.
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.