An article on abuse at a Massachusetts nursing home recently caught my eye as a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer. The Berkshire Eagle, a newspaper in western Massachusetts, reported Dec. 3 that a former employee of a Pittsfield nursing home was sentenced to two years of probation and a suspended sentence for physically assaulting an 81-year-old patient with dementia. Sandra E. Yankey, 46, pleaded guilty to assault on Marie Jean Oppermann at Springside Nursing Home on Aug. 12 of this year. Oppermann died a month after the assault, of causes not considered related. The assault was the first of two reported incidents of abuse at Springside, triggering structural changes from the home's parent company in suburban Philadelphia, Genesis Healthcare Corp.
According to witnesses, Yankey punched Oppermann at least twice, pulled her hair, yanked her head from side to side and verbally berated her. Oppermann had dementia and was confined to a wheelchair. Other staff members present stepped between the two women and physically removed Yankey from the room after she refused to leave on her own. Oppermann later seemed bewildered and upset, staff members said, complained of pain in her left arm and had a tuft of hair in her lap. Yankey was immediately fired and later charged with felony assault. It was later discovered that she also had a past criminal conviction. After that incident, a staff member came forward to report another abuse incident in which a different employee stuffed a sock in the mouth of a blind, elderly dementia patient and told her to shut up. That employee was also fired. The man who was director of the home at the time no longer works there.
This article points out several times that Yankey will not go to jail or prison as long as she keeps to the terms of her probation. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I understand very well that this outcome could be frustrating to families like the Oppermanns. Pennsylvania nursing home abuse is a crime against Pennsylvanians who can't defend themselves -- and often can't even protest their mistreatment -- and should be taken very seriously. Fortunately, families that aren't satisfied with the criminal justice system have another way to seek justice: filing a lawsuit in the civil courts. A Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer can help clients hold negligent caregivers and nursing home companies responsible for their actions. That includes all of the physical, emotional and financial effects on the victims and their families.