As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was shocked and saddened to read about the death of a nursing home patient at the hands of another patient. The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown, east of Pittsburgh, reported Feb. 14 that 70-year-old Theodore Shaw died at the Cambria Care Center in Ebensburg after another patient repeatedly slammed a door into his head. The second patient has not been named, but has been transferred to a secure dementia ward in another nursing home owned by the same parent company. Both men were residents of the secure 60-bed dementia ward at the Cambria Care Center. Both the state police and the Pennsylvania Department of Health are investigating the incident, including whether the men's dementia played a role.
A spokesperson for the nursing home's parent company, Grane Healthcare, said the perpetrator had never shown any indication of violence in the past. But on the evening of Feb. 12, nursing home staff members reportedly found him repeatedly slamming a door into the head of Shaw as he lay on the ground. They believe it was intentional. Two workers suffered reportedly minor injuries as they tried to stop the attack, but Shaw died in a hospital two days later. In addition to the criminal investigation by Pennsylvania state police, the Department of Health is looking into whether either patient should have had constant supervision. If it finds that Cambria Care Center should have supervised the patients more closely, the nursing home would be required to come up with a plan to correct the problem and could also face fines or other penalties.
As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I certainly hope this home is not guilty of lax supervision. Most people think of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse as an act committed by caregivers. This does happen and is inexcusable, but danger can also come from other residents. That's especially true for dementia patients, who are literally not in their right minds. Because dementia patients can hurt themselves or others without realizing it, nursing homes have a special obligation to watch them closely - including separating them into special wards, as this home did. Failure to correctly supervise patients could constitute nursing home neglect. When a patient is hurt as a result of this kind of neglect, families should talk to a Pennsylvania injury lawyer about their legal options for securing justice and fair financial compensation.