Articles Posted in Pennsylvania nursing home news

Published on:

In an unusual situation, an eastern Pennsylvania nursing home patient is being charged with a homicide in the death of another patient. As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see that Carl Smith was arraigned on charges of involuntary manslaughter for pushing Margaret Lechleitner, 85. Both were residents of the dementia ward at Weatherwood Nursing Home in Weatherly, a Carbon County community between Allentown and Scranton. Lechleitner died after she fell to the floor, hit her head and suffered a subdural hematoma, a kind of blood blister. The death was ruled a homicide by the Luzerne County coroner–but the ruling only means that it was caused by another person, not that it was a criminal act. According to WNEP, medical experts and a judge will decide whether the case should go to trial.

The incident leading to Lechleitner’s death took place April 20. Smith told authorities that Lechleitner pushed him first and he pushed back, though police say there’s no evidence that she pushed him. After Lechleitner hit her head, she was taken to the Hazleton General Hospital just over the county line, where she died the next day. Police said they had to balance competing interests in the case, because Smith has dementia as well. An officer said the police wanted to make sure justice was served for Lechleitner’s family, but also that everyone around Smith is safe and that Smith continues to get treatment. An Alzheimer’s Association of Pennsylvania spokeswoman told WNEP that she has never seen an arrest, or indeed any situation where one dementia patient caused the death of another.

Interestingly, no one in the articles commented on the oversight responsibilities of the nursing home. Of course, there may have been nothing that nursing home attendants could do, if the incident happened quickly. But if Smith and Lechleitner were left together without supervision, the home may be vulnerable to a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawsuit alleging that it was negligent. Dementia patients end up in nursing homes because they need the kind of 24-hour supervision that families often can’t provide. In fact, in nursing homes, they are known for having difficult behavior. Nursing home staffs are supposed to keep them out of trouble, but as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I know understaffed, stretched-thin homes let things slide sometimes–and patients can die or suffer injuries as a result.
Continue reading →

Published on:

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC ) announced the establishment of the Elder Law Task Force formed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to investigate the increasing troubles regarding abuse, neglect, guardianship and the access senior citizens have to justice. Justice Debra Todd is chairing the task force, which will recommend possible legislation, amended laws, training and best practices. The task force has one year to finalize their study.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille said that Pennsylvania’s older population has significantly increased and as it grows, it is straining the ability of courts to provide services to protect elderly Pennsylvanians. He further stated that the requirements of the elderly will last for years, especially with regard to elder abuse, guardianships and their access to legal recourse. He said that it is time to guarantee that older Pennsylvania citizens will not suffer abuse or the loss of their savings.

Justice Todd has said that our society focuses on child abuse, but rarely addresses the abuse of the elderly. The force is hoping to put new laws into effect before the elderly population swells even more because with more elderly citizens comes more elderly abuse. Nowadays the number of people in the United States who are over 65 years old is greater numerically and proportionately than it has ever been, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Pennsylvania is only exceeded by three other states in terms of elderly population density.

Published on:

As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I was interested to read about a recent court ruling involving a suburban Philly nursing home. According to McKnights Long-Term Care News, a federal judge has dismissed a case against Neshaminy Manor, a home run by Bucks County. The lawsuit alleged that negligent practices at the nursing home led to injuries and eventually the death of Almira Will. Will depended on an oxygen tank, but her daughter, Lauretta Notwick, alleged that she frequently found the tank empty or turned off when she visited. The federal judge in the case granted a dismissal to Bucks County, ruling that the county is not legally responsible for injuries that do not stem from county policy, and that no policy appears to have led to Will’s injuries.

Will had end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that required her to have constant oxygen from a tank. She was admitted to Neshaminy Manor in August of 2008 after breaking her hip. Notwick’s lawsuit alleged that during visits, she frequently found her mother’s oxygen tank turned off or empty. She claimed that this was a result of a Bucks County policy saying staff “may” replace oxygen cylinders with needles halfway into the red zone that signals a need for a refill. The federal judge, Lynne Sitarski, ruled that the nursing staff may have provided poor care, but the Bucks County policy was not to blame because it left the replacement time up to staff discretion. Notwick also argued that staff negligence led to Will falling numerous times while at Neshaminy Manor, once breaking her hip again. But the judge ruled that Bucks County is not liable for this because there’s no evidence that allowing Will to fall was a result of county policy.

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I hope this family continues to pursue the lawsuit. The article doesn’t make clear who exactly was sued, but typically, the nursing home is legally responsible for its employees’ behavior. With private homes, that’s true regardless of whether the employees were carrying out policy or simply making bad choices. The rules may change because this home is part of the Bucks County government, but in general, government employees are not immune to lawsuits. Of course, Notwick can also sue the employees who provided negligent care as individuals, but suing them as individuals does nothing to induce their superiors to make (or enforce) policies that avoid Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. Individuals also have far less money, which may be an issue for this family if they suffered significant financial losses from the bad care, such as high medical bills and funeral expenses. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I would be interested to see whether this ruling is revisited.
Continue reading →

Published on:

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was pleased to see that a Western Pennsylvania family has settled its Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawsuit with a nursing home. According to the Altoona Mirror, Affinity Health Services Inc. settled claims that a worker there assaulted a 77-year-old woman two weeks before her death. Christine Welshans was left with bruises and blood on her face after the alleged assault on Aug. 16 or 17 of 2009. The aide accused of hurting Welshans was also accused of assaulting another patient, but the case involving Welshans was closed after her death two weeks later was ruled heart-related. The family’s lawsuit noted that the aide, not named in the article, had a history of abusing patients at another home.

Welshans had physical problems, but was pleasant and able to interact with staff until the night of Aug. 16 or the early morning of Aug. 17. That’s when the lawsuit alleges she was battered around the face by the aide. A city police report the next day said Welshans had bruising around her eye, her cheek and her chin, and dried blood on her cheek. After the incident, she was agitated and claimed someone had hit her. There was no witness to the attack, but a witness did see the other attack that night, in which the aide pinned a woman’s arms to her body using the belt on a robe. Though that incident led to charges, they were dismissed at a preliminary hearing. The lawsuit claimed Affinity was negligent in hiring the aide with the history of violence.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I’d like to know what happened to the aide–who, let us remember, assaulted the other patient in front of witnesses. The article didn’t mention whether the aide was disciplined by the state or the company for the assault on the other patient, or for the allegations involving Welshans. It does mention that the law enforcement officer who gave the aide a voice stress test after the incident thought he or she was lying, which was probably important in court. If the aide was not fired after these incidents, Affinity will have a lot of questions to answer–especially if he or she assaults more patients. For-profit nursing homes don’t like to lose staff because replacing them costs money, but keeping this kind of employee puts patients in danger. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope Affinity did the right thing with this aide.
Continue reading →

Published on:

As a Pennsylvania nursing home attorney, I was surprised and disappointed to see an article about sexual assault at a Lancaster County nursing home. According to Lancaster Online, a man at Maple Farm Nursing Center in Akron, Penn., is in county jail after admitting to sexually assaulting a female Alzheimer’s patient at the facility. Glenn Hershey of Akron is charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault and sexual assault in connection with the incident that took place early on Jan. 20. He has been discharged from the nursing home and will not be permitted to return, the home’s executive director said.

Nursing home staff checked on the victim, an 86-year-old Alzheimer’s and dementia patient, around 4:50 a.m. Sunday and found her nude from the waist down and complaining of pain in her abdomen and genitals. Earlier that night, staff had seen Hershey leaving the victim’s room and asked if she’d had a visitor, but she said she had not. Court records show that the nursing home staff was aware that Hershey is a sex offender convicted in 1993 for sexual assault of a professional escort. He had called the escort and offered her money for sex, but when she discovered that he didn’t have the money, he assaulted her anyway. After Sunday’s assault, Hershey admitted to sexual contact with another female resident at Maple Farm. The home declined to provide further details, citing privacy concerns.

Because Maple Farms staff knew about Hershey’s past history, many residents’ families are probably questioning whether staff did an adequate job of protecting other residents from him. In fact, some may be wondering whether it was appropriate to admit Hershey to the home at all. Dementia patients like the victim need extra protection because their disease robs them of the ability to fully take care of themselves. If staff members knew about the potential for a rape and didn’t take adequate steps to protect residents, they may be guilty of neglect, which is a form of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a lawsuit from the victim’s family, and possibly action from other families as well.
Continue reading →

Published on:

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was disappointed to see another case of a hidden camera turning up serious Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. NBC10 Philadelphia reported on an abuse case that was uncovered at a nursing home in Bucks County. Two former employees at the Arbors at Buck Run were caught on camera dumping a wheelchair-bound woman onto a bed, singing and yelling directly into her face. Regina Battles, 20, and Irene Rodriguez, 22, have since been fired and are in county jail on charges of neglect of a care-dependent person, reckless endangerment, harassment and assault. The home has been issued a shutdown order by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, but it’s appealing that order and will remain open for 30 days.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the victim’s daughter planted a hidden camera in the room because she suspected mistreatment of her 83-year-old mother, an Alzheimer’s patient. On three consecutive days in October, the camera caught Battles and Rodriguez handling the victim roughly as they helped her into and out of bed. For example, the videos show Battles grabbing and pulling or pushing the woman’s legs roughly; and both workers placing her on the floor before shoving her into bed. Another video shows the victim falling out of bed with no help coming and no preventive measures. The woman can clearly be seen crying in some videos and was caught another time covering her face in fear. The victim was taken to the hospital in November with minor wounds to her legs and feet, and is now living at another home.

The Arbors at Bucks Run, a private for-profit home, immediately fired both employees after the family complained to the state. However, the complaints triggered a state inspection Dec. 3 and revoked the home’s operating license Dec. 7. The Inquirer said the action was a penalty for hiring Rodriguez and Battles before finishing background checks; PhillyBurbs.com cited gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct. The home may continue operating while it appeals.

As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I look forward to hearing more about this case. It has several similarities with the 2011 case involving the Quadrangle nursing home, in which a dementia patient’s daughter confirmed suspicions of abuse with a hidden camera. That family went on to file a lawsuit against the home, and the employees caught on camera were criminally charged for their part. The employees in this case have a defense attorney who believes their actions were misinterpreted, but as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I suspect the videos will speak for themselves when it’s time to go before a jury. But more importantly, I hope the regulatory action taken against this home results in long-term improvements in patient safety.
Continue reading →

Published on:

A major issue for Pennsylvania nursing home lawyers like me is the ability to sue the nursing home’s parent company as well as the home itself and individual employees. Many Pennsylvania nursing home abuse cases involve issues of understaffing or under-training, or negligent hiring, all of which can stem from poor decisions by the nursing home company. In Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center LLC, the estate of Madeline Scampone made these kinds of allegations against Highland Park Care Center and Grane Healthcare, alleging they had been directly negligent as well as indirectly negligent through the actions of their employees. Highland Park was the Pittsburgh-area nursing home where Scampone died; Grane was the management services company for Highland Park. The trial court granted a nonsuit for Grane, finding insufficient evidence of its liability, but the appeals court reversed and the Supreme Court upheld that.

Scampone lived at Highland Park from 1998 until her death in 2004, undergoing treatment for dementia, high blood pressure, lung disease and osteoporosis. Between June 2002 and January 2004, she was admitted to the hospital five times for urinary tract infections. During the final hospitalization, she was also admitted for malnutrition, dehydration, bedsores and an acute myocardial infarction. She died in early February. Her son, acting on behalf of her estate, later alleged in the lawsuit that Highland Park and Grane themselves were negligent, as well as responsible for the negligence of their employees. The trial included testimony from former employees that they lacked the time to follow care orders for Scampone or ensure that she had adequate food, water, medicine and activity; witnesses said staff members failed to follow doctors’ orders.

At the end of this testimony, Grane moved for a nonsuit and received it; Highland Park also received a nonsuit on punitive damages. However, the Superior Court reversed, finding sufficient evidence to support direct and vicarious liability for Grane and punitives for Highland Park. Both corporate entities appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

That court upheld the lower court, but with different reasoning, finding that a resident like Scampone may have a valid claim for corporate negligence against the nursing home and related entities. It rejected arguments that nursing home companies cannot be liable for direct negligence because they work through their employees and officers, saying it had recognized a direct duty in the past and that vicarious liability is an insufficient substitute. Nor did the high court believe the nursing home’s argument that its own caselaw limited corporate direct liability to hospitals. The proper question in this case, the court said, was whether evidence showed the kind of relationship between Scampone and the defendants to give rise to a duty of care. Because the trial court did not make its decision on that basis, the Supreme Court said, the case must be remanded to make that determination and conduct any resulting trial.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I am very pleased to see the state’s highest court reject arguments that would have exempted nursing homes from liability in Pennsylvania. Though the court made its decision according to its caselaw rather than what it perceived as good public policy, I believe it’s good public policy to retain nursing home companies’ accountability for wrongdoing. Nursing home companies don’t like to be sued, so if they know a suit is a strong possibility, they’re more likely to prevent any unsafe behavior. This may be the wrong reason to do the right thing, but the end result will be better protection for the elderly and disabled people in Pennsylvania nursing homes. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I believe these vulnerable patients are owed the strongest regulatory scheme we can devise.
Continue reading →

Published on:

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I know that outbreaks of disease are distressingly common in nursing homes. Any situation where people live in close quarters increases the risk of a communicable disease, but in nursing homes, the situation is worse because the residents are usually elderly and not in peak health. As a result, the staff’s failure to take basic precautions like washing hands can cause a deadly outbreak. Now, a new study from the University of Chicago School of Medicine shows that outbreaks of norovirus–a virus that commonly causes the stomach flu–in nursing homes is associated with a risk of death or hospitalization from any cause. While it’s not surprising to find that norovirus causes norovirus-related hospitalizations, the study suggests that the virus may increase all risks to patients.

The study, reported in the online version of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was a retrospective analysis of two years’ worth of Medicare and CDC records from nursing homes in Oregon, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. (These were the states with the greatest number of outbreaks, which is bad news here in Pennsylvania.) During the duration of the outbreaks, the study found, hospital admission rates were 124 per nursing home per year, higher than the 109.5 per home per year rate when there was no outbreak. Death rates during outbreaks were 53.7 per home per year and 41.9 per home per year when there was no outbreak. Significantly, the study found that the risk of death disappeared when the home had a high number of registered nurse hours per resident, but increased when the RN time dropped to 0.75 hour per resident per day.

Researchers suggested that the risks may stem less from norovirus itself than from the disruptions caused by the outbreaks. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I agree that this seems likely. Many nursing homes–especially private, for-profit homes–are perpetually understaffed because staff is very expensive. This is unfortunate for patients, because studies consistently show that care is better and risks are lower with a higher staffing ratio, especially when skilled staff has more hours. A viral outbreak undoubtedly strains those stretched resources, causing a higher risk of things going undone or unnoticed. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I’m familiar with the results: missed or wrong medications, inattention to basic food and water and bedsore needs, dementia patients permitted to wander and more kinds of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse.
Continue reading →

Published on:

I was disappointed to see a recent report of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse so serious that it led to criminal charges. The Altoona Mirror, a community newspaper in western Pennsylvania, reported Sept. 26 that the former owner of Warner’s Home for the Aged and two ex-employees of the home were charged with neglect by a grand jury in the case of Kenneth McGuire. McGuire was 80 when he died from complications of serious neglect by the home’s employees. His hospitalization and death led to the revocation of the home’s license in December of 2011. Now facing charges of neglect of a care-dependent person are ex-owner Sherry Jo Warner, 64, and ex-employees Diana Frye, 62, and Marjory Koch, 44.

McGuire had lived in the home five years before he was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 5, 2011. A doctor’s visit in July of that year had turned up nothing worse than a small sore on his leg. However, McGuire’s condition deteriorated in the months after, requiring him to move from using a cane to walk to using a wheelchair. As a result, he needed more intense care, including regular turning to prevent pressure sores as well as basic care like bathing and feeding. After his hospital admission, it became clear that he had not received that care in some time. His toes and shins were covered in pressure sores, and one foot was gangrenous. He was also covered in dried urine and feces when he was admitted to the hospital, and he was dehydrated, malnourished and suffering from sepsis. His doctor and the staff at the medical center testified that he was in worse shape than any other nursing home patient they had seen.

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I’m sorry to say that this story sounds familiar to me. Pressure sores (also known as bedsores and decubitus ulcers) are a very common condition in nursing homes because the homes deal with so many people who have limited mobility. They are simple to prevent–caregivers must turn the patient regularly–but this is time-consuming. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I know many of the for-profit nursing homes cut their staffs, or the quality of their staffs, in an attempt to save money, and keeping up with important duties like this gets more difficult as a result. I believe the safety of patients should be prioritized above profit for the home’s corporate parent, and I’m glad we have laws enforcing that even when the caregivers fail in this most basic duty.
Continue reading →

Published on:

When you hop onto a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse blog, like this one, you’re bound to find stories that may at first blush seem to create a confirmation bias. In other words, this blog is maintained by a high profile and widely respected Philadelphia nursing home neglect and abuse law firm. So it obviously contains information and stories that elevate the salience of nursing home abuse and neglect.

Thus, you might be led to believe that this blog is biased and that it “over reports” the extent of the problem.

But both objective statistics and good science reporting should refute this skeptical mindset.

Consider, for instance, a terrifying story from last week’s news alone – which highlights the horrific and diverse extent of the problem.

Arlington Texas police are investigating claims that a woman’s elderly mother had been abused at the Heritage Oaks Nursing Home on Gibbins Road. 83-year-old Mynez Carter is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. She needs round the clock care. Her family became angry and suspicious, after they saw unexplainable bruises on the matriarch’s body.

What was causing those disturbing bruises?

The woman’s daughter, Freddie Johnson, suspected abuse at the nursing home.

To test her theory, Ms. Johnson surreptitiously installed a hidden camera in her mom’s room to try to catch suspected abusers in the act. She later told news sources that, once she saw the hidden camera footage, “my heart started racing and I was horrified. And I was more mad than anything just to know this was going on with my mother…”

Ms. Johnson said the video clearly demonstrated that staff workers had been abusing her mom.

In one case, one of the workers pinched Carter’s leg. In other case – a scarier example – one worker pulled her mom’s hair and pushed on her head. Johnson and her siblings met with the administrator of Heritage Oaks, Jerry Warren. They also filed a police report, and Texas police are investigating.

One of the most disturbing – and also captivating – aspects of the story is the hidden camera.

We all want to know “what goes on” when we’re not around. That’s fundamental human curiosity at work. Many people who are even slightly dubious about a nursing home would likely be intrigued by what a “hidden camera” might have to say.

Hidden cameras are interesting devices, in that they reveal unfortunate truths about the limits of our trust. What does it say about our society that the children of an elderly woman in desperate need of care must spy on their mother, just to make sure that she is not getting abused?

This is a deep question with potentially worrisome answers.
Continue reading →

Contact Information