Rebecca Zeni, 91, was living at the Shepherd Hills Nursing Home, a for-profit facility in LaFayette, Georgia in 2015 when she died due to nursing home abuse. According to the autopsy report, the cause of death was “septicemia due to crusted scabies.” Crusted scabies is a contagious, but treatable skin disease caused by parasitic mites that burrow into the skin, lay eggs and survive off of a body. Photos of Zeni before her death show skin flaking off and her blackened hand. She had been living in the nursing home since 2010. She also suffered from dementia.
State health officials were alerted to a scabies outbreak at the nursing home a number of times. However, it did not inspect the facility. A Georgia Department of Public Health report released in June 2015 noted that at least 35 residents and staff were exposed to scabies. Although the Department did not inspect the nursing home, it did email a manual to the home that described how to treat the disease. Zeni died 11 days after the home received the manual.
A television station in LaFayette hired a former Georgia Bureau of Investigation chief medical examiner to review Zeni’s case. He projected that hundreds of millions of mites were actually living inside Zeni at the time of her death. He also asserted that the woman was fundamentally eaten alive and probably suffered a painful death.
As a result of Medicare based health inspections, Shepherd Hills was ordered to pay penalties totaling $337,786. Moreover, in 2016 the staff was penalized for a number of staff medication violations. Some of these caused life-threatening situations. For example, one resident was given morphine by mistake twice within a half-hour in the morning and was given more of the medication every two hours later that night and the following day, according to records. As a result of this care, the patient overdosed and had to be rushed to the intensive care unit.
Furthermore, an investigation by the local television station that included the inspection of state health records showed that the Shepherd Hills Nursing Home had more than 30 violations over a period of three years from 2014 to 2016. The station also reported that state officials warned that they would deny federal funding to the home if the violations were not addressed.
Problems With Nursing Home Abuse
There have been recurring problems with for-profit nursing homes like Shepherd Hills because they often sacrifice patient comfort to minimize costs and maximize profit. Big corporations and private investment firms own for-profit nursing homes, many of which have quality of care performance problems. These institutions are said to be more likely than nonprofit and government-owned facilities to be cited for “serious deficiencies” that harm residents, according to 2011 and 2016 Government Accountability office reports. It has been found that staffing levels of such facilities are lower than usual resulting in nurses spending less time with patients.
How To Choose A Nursing Home
If you find the need to put a loved one into a nursing home, you should inspect the facilities before hand. While you are examining the property consider these issues:
- • The food. Check out the facility’s cafeteria to determine how the food looks and tastes. Standard protocol for nursing homes is to record how much food a resident eats at each meal. Once your loved one is in a nursing home and is not eating the food, but will eat food that you bring to him or her, notify the home’s staff.
- • Sounds you hear when inspecting the home. Residents who moan or yell might be disturbing, but usually occurs in a home because patients have dementia. Instead, listen to how the staff interacts with patients.
- • Consider the smell of the place. You may smell some strange odors when inspecting a nursing home. This may be due to medications and diets that make patients gassier. However, if you smell stale urine, it could mean that the facility is not cleaned properly.
- • The nursing home staff. During your walk through try to determine if the staff is overworked. Ask staff members if they have to work overtime or double shifts. If the staff is overworked, then they are stressed and that could lead to problems with their interaction with residents. Listen to discussions between staff members. If they are rude to each other, then they could be rude to the residents. Are members of the staff gossiping with each other or are they interacting with the patients? Check the residents for bruises. That can be a warning of possible abuse. Do any of the residents have unexplained bedsores? In some cases, bedsores may be due to a resident being to sick or frail. However, if a resident who appears to be active is developing bedsores, then that might be something to be concerned about. If your loved one is bed-ridden, then ask how often he or she would be rotated.
- • The residents. How do the residents spend their time? Don’t worry if you see residents loitering at the nurses’ station or watching people come and go. Instead, determine if the home has daily activities in which patients can participate. If patients have to remain in their room, determine if activities are brought to them.
- • Residents who fall. Residents of a nursing home falling are a common occurrence. However, watch how the staff reacts. Do they help the resident up, check for injuries on the spot and then again later? After a fall, the staff should contact the patient’s loved one and meet with him or her to discuss why the fall occurred and whether there should be any changes in the resident’s care as a result.
- • Personal care needs of the residents. Inquire as to how the staff will take care of the personal needs of your loved one.
Check out the Medicare website to compare nursing homes you are considering for your loved one and research homes that have been cited for violations by state inspectors. The site also shows you how to report nursing home abuse.
As a result of what happened to Rebecca Zeni, her family is suing the Shepherd Hills Nursing Home, and Pruitt Health, which owns the facility.
If you have a loved one living in a nursing home who has been abused by that home, then please contact us. We have a staff of nursing home attorneys who are knowledgeable about the issues and can help guide you through a lawsuit. It is imperative that those who abuse nursing home residents be accountable for their actions.