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Why Bother Suing Bad Nursing Homes?
As lawyers who represent patients and families devastated by nursing home neglect and abuse, we are sometimes asked: “Why bother suing nursing homes? … Their patients are already old and sick. It’s not as if they have a great quality of life anyway.”
Well, here is one of the many important reasons we “bother.”
Clyde was born in 1923, a few years before the Great Depression. When he was 11 years old, his family lost their home after his father died. He, his mother and sisters worked and relied upon the mercy of relatives and friends to make ends meet. Clyde spent virtually all of his time out of school working to help the family.
At age 14, Clyde met Farris, a sensitive, beautiful,and vibrant classmate of his with whom he instantly connected. The two became fantastic friends and throughout school always found a way to sit next to each other in their classes. After graduating high school together in 1941, the thought of now being apart pulled Clyde and Farris even closer together. They began dating romantically and eventually married in April 1942.
At the time, World War II was ongoing and Clyde joined the Army Air Corps. After his military service, Clyde and Farris had their first born child, and they would have three other children in the coming years (who would later provide them with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren).
Following his service, Clyde worked during the day and attended law school on the GI Bill. Soon after receiving his law license, however, Clyde — with Farris’ blessing — felt called to enter the clergy. After completing his theological training, Clyde spent the remainder of his working career as an ordained minister. Rather than seek separate employment, Farris chose to serve as a volunteer within Clyde’s churches, helping with the choir, missionary groups, teaching Sunday School, and the like. Clyde and Farris were virtually inseparable throughout their adult life together. They enjoyed nearly every meal together because they worked together in the church. This ritual continued after they had retired.
In 2010, Farris’ health declined some. She fell at home and broke her hip, which limited her mobility. She had also developed a problem with swallowing, so she was provided a feeding tube to help her meet her nutritional requirements. During this period of time, Clyde assumed the responsibility for helping Farris take care of herself at home. As Clyde sees it, the two became even more inseparable. Clyde has told others, “I saw this not as a burden but rather as a blessing. It brought us even closer together because we could continue spending all of our time in each other’s company.”
Clyde was diligent in his caregiver responsibilities and was trained on how to assist Farris with her daily needs and to provide care related to her feeding tube.
While Farris could no longer take long walks, Clyde and Farris spent much of their time together on long strolls down memory lane. Just as they were many decades before, Clyde and Farris were happy and content just being together.
In June of 2014, Clyde injured his back while attending to their bird feeder. Because of the pain he was suffering from this injury, he was temporarily unable to help Farris with her daily routine. Because Clyde’s own mobility would be impacted by his injury and the pain for awhile, he grew concerned that Farris may need immediate assistance and he would be unable to promptly and adequately assist her because of his own injury.
As difficult as it was, they made the decision that while Clyde recovered from his back injury, Farris would be admitted temporarily to a nearby nursing home to ensure her safety and well-being. The nursing home gave assurances that they were fully equipped to take care of Farris. The nursing home promoted that they were staffed 24/7 with professional nursing caregivers who would be there make sure patients received the attention and care they needed.
It was difficult for both Clyde and Farris to contemplate being apart, but they knew that they would be together again once Clyde’s back pain subsided. During that time. Clyde came to visit Farris at the nursing home despite his pain.
Then it happened. Just 10 days after Farris was admitted to the nursing home, Clyde was awakened by a telephone call in the middle of the night from one of the nursing home employees. The employee bluntly stated: “We’re informing you that your wife just died.” At that moment, Clyde became so overwhelmed with shock and grief, he became unable to process the events which had unfolded. This shock would linger.
Clyde did recover from his back injury. Eventually, sometime after Farris’ funeral, Clyde — still gripped with sadness and grief — became intent on finding out what happened to Farris on the night she died. According to the death certificate, Farris died of “aspiration pneumonia.” Clyde grew concerned that Farris’ needs had been neglected in that brief period of time while she was a patient of the nursing home. In order to find answers, Clyde requested copies of Farris’ medical records from the nursing home and reviewed them. Clyde believed that the matter warranted further investigation, so he requested that the Indiana State Department of Health (“ISDH”) initiate an investigation. The ISDH investigated the nursing home and issued a report which found that the nursing home failed to comply with state and federal nursing home regulations and failed provide necessary care and services to Farris.
The facility was required by the ISDH to prepare a plan for correcting these deficiencies, but there was no monetary penalty or fine of any kind to be paid by the nursing home. This is not uncommon, unfortunately, even when nursing homes are found to have committed serious care violations.
Clyde asked our law firm to investigate this matter further. After obtaining and reviewing documents related to the case and taking the deposition of Farris’ physician who was called on the night she died, we learned the following unfortunate details:
- The nursing home should have elevated the head of Farris’ bed to 30 degrees as the doctor had ordered to prevent choking, but the nursing home records indicate the nursing staff did not do this;
- The nursing home staff should have routinely checked on and attended to Farris’ feeding tube to prevent choking or other injury, but the nursing home records indicate the nursing staff did not do this;
- The nursing staff should have administered oxygen to Farris when they knew she had vomited, was having trouble breathing, and had blood oxygen levels drop below 90%, but the nursing home records indicate the nursing staff did not do this;
- Even though the nursing home staff knew Farris was having difficulty breathing, was not getting enough oxygen, and was declining toward death, they never even called 911 or requested an ambulance;
- The nursing home records indicate that no one took Farris’ vital signs for at least 40 minutes as her condition deteriorated prior to her death;
- A nursing home staffmember later claimed that Farris’ doctor refused to give an order to send her to the hospital; however, no such conversation or phone call corrolating to that claim was ever documented in Farris’ nursing home medical record; and,
- Even though there was a physician’s order stating Farris should be resuscitated if needed, nursing never attempted to resuscitate her before she died.
The bottom line is that this horrible tragedy of errors was preventable. Time and again basic standards of care which apply to healthcare providers who render professional care to elderly patients in nursing homes were blatantly violated and ignored. Of course, Clyde was never told any of these details by any representative of the nursing home. Only because Clyde chose to investigate this matter himself and continue to pursue the matter did these horrific facts come to light.
Clyde invested more than 70 years in his wonderful, lifelong relationship with Farris. Clyde and Farris’ relationship and good fortune certainly should not have been taken from them that day, that way. It is true that Clyde’s lawsuit will not bring Farris back. But at this point, securing some sense of accountability is all that Clyde can do to honor his wife who was taken from him.
So, why do we bother? Because life is precious. No one has the right to judge when someone else’s life is not important enough to matter. No one has the right to conclude that someone else’s relationship with a loved one is not meaningful enough to “bother” holding a wrongdoer accountable for taking that away. We will continue to stand with Clyde and the many others who seek answers and accountability from Indiana’s broken nursing home industry. We will seek not only to find out what happened, but to expose why it happened in hopes of ensuring it will not occur again.
The Powless Law Firm is an Indiana law firm that represents victims and families state-wide in serious cases involving nursing home neglect, medical negligence, personal injury and wrongful death. If you have concerns about nursing home neglect or abuse, please contact us at 877-769-5377. Together we can make a difference.