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Nursing Home Staff Charged with Abuse of Alzheimer's Patients

Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight a recent story out of Atlanta, Georgia, focusing on more than 20 current and former employees of a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients. The staff of Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce, including its owner, is now facing over 70 criminal charges for abusing the elderly patients.

Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce is located about 60 miles north of Atlanta. Agents for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued a warrant last week, entering the nursing home in search of additional evidence for their three-month probe into the facility. About 27 patients were residing in the facility when investigators arrived, and three were ultimately taken to a local hospital for additional medical treatment. About 11 employees have already been arrested, although the owner, Donna Wright, is still at large for her alleged crimes.

Among these crimes include restraining patients with bed sheets, subjecting them to inhumane and undignified conditions at the facility, and striking and throwing water on patients. Other accusations include “double diapering” residents, so that staff did not have to change them as often, leaving residents in the same dressings for days at a time.

In their probe, Georgia investigators also discovered that staff members at the facility had previous felony convictions, ranging from voluntary manslaughter to identity theft. One would assume that nursing homes, which are entrusted with caring for our nation’s most vulnerable population, would be required to conduct full background checks before hiring. This is not the case, at least for low-level positions such as nursing aides. The remaining residents at the Atlanta nursing home will be moved to other facilities after consultation with family members.

Experts assert that Alzheimer’s patients are significantly more vulnerable to abuse because they are often unable to defend themselves, and their cognitive issues make reporting and remembering specific episodes of abuse difficult if not impossible. When there is an entire facility devoted to caring for Alzheimer’s, this risk is obviously compounded.

Earlier this year, a court in West Virginia awarded the family of an Alzheimer’s patient $91.5 million after she died from dehydration. The 87-year-old woman had been at Heartland of Charleston nursing home for less than 20 days before she died. During that time, she suffered head trauma from several falls and was eventually confined to a wheelchair. She also formed sores on her mouth during that period, generating dead tissue doctors had to scrape away with a scalpel.

Heartland of Charleston has an illustrious history of abuse and neglect, caused mainly by staffing shortages and overworked, underpaid employees. The $91.5 million verdict was intended to send a clear deterrence message to the nursing home chain, which needs to know its misconduct will not be tolerated.

Seniors with cognitive disabilities are not exclusively vulnerable to abuse, however. Last year, in 2012, Congress released a report which found that patients suffered from abuse or neglect at one in three American nursing homes.

A national survey conducted in 2010 further illuminated this troubling phenomenon. The study found that about half of all nursing home staff surveyed admitted to mistreating their elder patients within the past year. Most admitted to neglecting residents, which can include anything from ignoring their cries for help to failing to change bed linens and rotate bed-ridden patients.

Nursing home lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have decades of experience advocating on behalf of victims of nursing home abuse, neglect, and exploitation. If you or a loved one was seriously injured at a long-term care facility, you may be entitled to significant compensation for your medical bills, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.