Novovirus hits SC nursing home had an article about the recent outbreak of a highly contagious virus at a Murrells Inlet nursing home. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reports as many as 75 people have suffered symptoms of norovirus at the NHC nursing home in Murrells Inlet.

The virus is a stomach flu and can be spread if infection controls are not in place and practiced among the staff in the nursing home.   This is of particular concern for the elderly -- as they can easily become dehydrated and can cause fatalities.

The nursing home is not releasing any information.  No visitors will be allowed until the virus is under control.

Life Care Center charged with manslaughter after neglecting a resident had a recent article about the wrongful death of a resident caused by the neglect and incompetence of the nursing home staff.  This death was clearly preventable if the facility was not understaffed and the employees were doing their jobs.

Julia McCauley was a resident who on the morning of Aug. 17, 2004, rolled her wheelchair unattended out the front door of the Life Care Center of Acton, and tumbled down a flight of stairs causing her death.  McCauley was not wearing a doctor-prescribed WanderGuard bracelet designed to set off an alarm and lock the doors if McCauley got too close to the exit.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office believes that McCauley’s death could have been avoided had she been wearing her electronic bracelet and that the nursing home’s parent company, Life Care Centers of America, is culpable.

Of course, Life Care Center officials deny any wrongdoing and refuse to accept responsibility.  What ever happened to accountability?  Life Care Center is charged with manslaughter and neglect of a long-term care facility resident.   If convicted, the Tennessee-based corporation would only face a possible fine not to exceed $6,000.

Life Care operates more than 200 facilities in 28 states, including several that have come under scrutiny in the past.  In 2005, the company paid $2.5 million to resolve allegations of billing Medicaid and Medicare for services that were never provided or were useless to the residents of a Lawrenceville, Ga., facility.

The Acton facility in the past was fined $2,112 in the fall of 2005 and $11,147 in December 2006 for various deficiencies found during routine state checks. In July 2007, state and federal regulators imposed fines totaling more than $164,000 for deficiencies that jeopardized residents’ safety. But the fines were rescinded after the facility promised to correct the deficiencies.





Neglect and understaffing causes tragic death

The Chicago Tribune has had a series of articles about the tragic death of a nursing home resident who was unsupervised and allowed to wander away from the facility.  The articles are good although many questions remain unanswered.  See articles here, here, here, and here.  Below is a summary of what I believe has been found out thus far.

Sarah Wentworth -- who suffered from dementia -- was found in a snowbank outside The Arbor of Itasca the cold morning of Feb. 5.  She had been exposed to the elements for at least 90 minutes and more likely 5 hours. Wentworth was unable to leave her bed without assistance.   No one is sure how she could have left her room and the building without being noticed by staff.  Staff are required to do a bed check every two hours.  She was known by staff to be a wanderer and wore an ankle bracelet that reminded the staff.

Wentworth was wearing only a hospital gown when police arrived at the nursing home.  She had on an ankle bracelet that should have (and may have) triggered an alarm at the facility's nursing station when she passed through the first of two exit doors.   Inside the nursing station at The Arbor of Itasca is a handwritten note reminding staff that "if this buzzer sounds, staff must go out to the courtyard to check for a resident."

Nursing home staff members told Itasca police they checked the door to the courtyard when the alarm went off, but did not see anyone.   No mention of a polygraph test was noted.

Neglect and obstruction of justice charges may be filed against as many as four employees. Heidi Leon, a 23-year-old staff member on duty the night of the incident, was watching TV in a room adjacent to the nursing station when Wentworth exited a door and triggered the alarm.  She watched three straight episodes of "Dog The Bounty Hunter" and "shrugged off " an alarm that indicated a resident had wandered outside into near-zero conditions.  Instead of checking the courtyard as instructed, the staff member assumed someone "stepped outside to have a cigarette" and turned the alarm off "so it didn't distract her television program."

Tom Hendrix, an attorney for the nursing home, did not respond directly to the allegations but said that "policies and procedures were in place for the supervision and safety of residents, including an alarm system which was in working order." Hendrix did admit that some employees had been suspended.

Mr. Hendrix nor the nursing home employees can explain how she got outside.   She was unable to get out of bed on her own.  Although an alarm sounded at a secure door during the middle of the night when Wentworth left the building, no nursing home employee checked on her.   The outside temperature that morning was about 1 degree.

Heidi Leon was charged Tuesday with criminal neglect of a long-term-care facility resident, criminal neglect of an elderly person and obstruction of justice. If convicted, she faces up to 7 years in prison.