I know I’m about a week behind on this one, but I think it’s important.  Jane Gross wrote a piece for one of the New York Times blogs about all the decisions that needed to be made for her mother towards the end of her life.  In the piece titled What I Wish I’d Done Differently, Ms. Gross talks about everything from having a geriatrician to selling her mother’s house, and all the uncertainties in between.

She points out, quite correctly that there’s no way to be without uncertainties in situations like this, but that she would have liked to known prior to making some decisions that ultimately limited the choices they had later in regards to her mother’s care.

Something to think about this afternoon . . .

Article about lawsuit over husband’s fall at nursing home by David Yates, writer for The Southeast Texas Record. 

The nursing home staff found him in a pool of his own blood two years ago.  Clifford Ozen has suffered from seizures and decreased mobility sinc ethat fall.  The Senior Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Port Arthur allowed Mr. Ozen to fall from his bed.  His wife, Sharon Ozen, filed suit against the healthcare provider July 9 in Jefferson County District Court.

On July 28, 2006, Sharon Ozen visited her husband at the 199-bed rehabilitation facility.   After leaving the center, Sharon received a call and was advised that her husband was being rushed to the hospital.   "According to Mr. Ozen’s chart, an aide called a nurse because he was found on the floor with his head lying against the frame of the bedside table," the lawsuit said. "Defendant’s staff observed blood on the floor in a puddle, as well as a contusion and laceration to the top of Mr. Ozen’s head."

Since the fall, Clifford Ozen has suffered from seizures and has been bedridden. Upon his admission to the nursing home in January 2006, Clifford was diagnosed with dementia, confusion, wandering and an unsteady gait.   All risk factors for falling.  Nursing home was on notice that he could fall but did nothing to try to prevent him from injuring himself even though his wife consented to the use of restraints and safety devicesto protect him.

"The only safety precautions being utilized for Mr. Ozen were side rails on his bed and geriatric chair," the suit says. "These precautions were used only intermittently. Further, during his stay, he was unable to ambulate himself and had an impaired safety awareness."

Sharon alleges she informed the nursing home staff of her concerns, but the healthcare provider negligently failed to assess her husband’s risk for falling.  The nursing home also allegedly "failed to adequately protect him from falling in light of his confusion, agitation and impaired safety awareness."

Senior Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center is owned by Victoria, Texas-based Regency Nursing & Rehabilitation Centers, Inc.

The New Jersey Courier Post online had an article about how nursing homes’ populations are getting younger.  Below is an excerpt from the article:

At 45, John Eickmeyer is the youngest resident of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home on North West Boulevard.  His roommate is 86 and has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. That disparity isn’t unique to the veterans home.

Eickmeyer is one of a growing number of younger residents in long-term care facilities traditionally viewed as places for the elderly.   At the veterans home, the average age of residents is 81.

But, 24 of the home’s 290 residents — or roughly 7 percent — are under age 65.   In December 2003, 12.4 percent of New Jersey nursing-home residents were under age 65, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In December, 14.3 percent were 65 or younger.
Across the country, 12.3 percent of nursing-home residents were under age 65 in December 2003. Last year, that number increased to 13.9 percent. In all instances, the vast majority of those residents were over age 30.

Health-care experts said the number of younger residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will continue to grow, creating new challenges for administrators who must find ways to provide quality of life for residents who might be a half-century apart in age.

At first, Eickmeyer found it hard to adjust to being lumped in with an older crowd.

"It was culture shock," said Eickmeyer, who grew up in Waterford and lived in Hammonton before moving in to the veterans home.   He and some of the older residents disagreed on things as simple as room temperature.  But, Eickmeyer eventually saw an upside to living with people old enough to be his grandparents.

"Thrown into an environment like that, you listen first," he said. "I figured I could learn a multitude of information from older people, and I did."

"Within the next 10 to 15 years, there will be more of an influx of those who served in Vietnam, Desert Storm and more recent conflicts," he said.

Reach Tim Zatzariny Jr. at tzatzariny@thedailyjournal.com

Heather Johnson was kind enough to write a guest post for the blog.  We thank her for her contribution, and appreciate her expert advice.

How to Pick a Nursing Home for an Alzheimer’s Patient

Any family that’s been afflicted by having a member stricken by Alzheimer’s disease knows how immensely difficult and trying it can be. Many times it’s so hard because the person with Alzheimer’s disease is in perfect physical health. This makes the family so much more hesitant to put the relative in a nursing home because it seems like nothing is wrong and we want to believe that. However, we also know that as the disease progresses they can’t perform the daily activities safely and responsibly. It puts such a strain on the family that eventually the only choice is to look for a nursing home. This brings up the major issue of finding a place that can provide the care we demand. It can be an arduous search and here a few tips to help you as you look for that special place:

1. Staff ratios are of the utmost importance. Alzheimer’s disease patients need more direct care than your standard nursing home. Given the unpredictability of the disease and the actions of the afflicted it’s dire that they receive as much dedicated care as possible. Make sure the facility can guarantee at least a ratio of five patients to one caregiver.

2. Pay attention to the building’s architecture. Many Alzheimer’s disease patients have trouble making sharp corners. They do better with rounded hallways that don’t require sharp turns. All hallways should have hand railings to further assist patients with walking.

3. Group activities are important. Check to see that the facility offers small group activities instead of large ones. Alzheimer’s disease patients react much more favorably to working in groups under four than they do in larger groups.

4. Talk to relatives with family members already in the facility. This is sometimes the best way you can determine if the facility is the right place for your loved one. They will shoot you straight and answer your questions directly and honestly instead of a coordinator who needs to toe the company line and always put a positive spin on the facility’s deficiencies.

5. Discover what kind of experiences the patients can expect. There are many new techniques that some nursing homes offer their patients that help alleviate some of the accompanying discomforts that go hand-in-hand with those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Aromatherapy and experimenting with dimmer lighting are a couple examples of ways nursing home deal with the anxiety that many suffer from on a daily basis.


This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of Cruise Ship Nursing. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323@gmail.com.

CLARK KAUFFMAN at DesMoinesregister.com wrote an article about a nursing home employee who stole a resident’s cat.  Luckily, the cat found his way back!  The article states that the Iowa nursing home has been cited by the state for numerous problems, including the theft of a resident’s pet cat.

Granger Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, located in Granger in Dallas County, was fined $7,500. Recently, investigators with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals looked into allegations that employees at the home were attempting to get rid of an unnamed elderly resident’s cat.

The woman told inspectors someone had taken her cat and put it outside, although the cat did not run away. Later, the resident alleged, someone at the home took the cat and dumped it along a gravel road. The cat allegedly found its way back to the facility.   According to state records, inspectors interviewed seven employees, all of whom expressed concern that someone at the home intended to put the cat in the facility’s trash bin and kill it.

One worker allegedly told inspectors that the staff had been trying to dispose of the cat. The worker said that one night, while the resident was eating supper, she entered the resident’s room, placed the cat in a box and took it home for safekeeping. The worker said she intended to keep the cat only until she felt it could be safely returned to the nursing home.

Based on that worker’s statement, state officials cited the home for taking a resident’s property.

The Granger home has been cited for numerous other problems in recent months. Inspectors have alleged that:

A worker stole a resident’s pain medication for her own use. The worker allegedly took the resident’s Imitrix, a costly drug that is prescribed for the treatment of migraine headaches. The resident’s insurer had paid for the drug at a rate of $26 per tablet. The worker told inspectors she took the pills at the suggestion of the director of nursing. The director of nursing told inspectors she knew of only one instance in which the worker used the resident’s medication. She acknowledged that she did not report the theft to police or to state inspectors.

• As inspectors watched, a resident who was totally dependent on employees for assistance with eating was given little or no help with breakfast. At one point, the resident motioned to workers, pointing to a cereal bowl. One worker stopped and put milk and sugar on the cereal but then walked away. Twenty minutes later, the resident reached for a worker as she passed, but the worker only paused and walked away with the resident still pointing at his or her plate. A few minutes later, the resident was wheeled out of the dining room with most of the food untouched. At lunch, workers again failed to assist the resident with eating.

• One resident was mistakenly given double the amount of prescribed insulin for diabetes treatment.

• The home was cited for failing to ensure that residents had ready access to drinking water and for inadequate infection control.

• Inspectors watched workers walk through urine while providing care for one resident.

• One resident walked out of the home and was later seen by a passer-by crawling along the shoulder of a nearby highway. The passer-by alerted workers at the home, who picked up the resident and took him to a hospital for evaluation.

The Granger home has 61 residents. Federal records indicate residents of the home receive, on average, 18 minutes of daily care from a registered nurse, which is half the average of all Iowa nursing homes.

A recent Cornell University study reports aggression is commonplace in nursing homes–between residents themselves and between residents and employees of the nursing home.  Verbal and physical abuse is more common than the industry acknowledges. In an online report with McKnight’s Long Term Care News, the study documents many observations made at a city-based nursing home which found at least 35 different types of abuse, with screaming being the most popular. Physical violence included pushing, punching, and fighting.

The report also referenced another two-week study wherein researchers found that 2.4 percent of nursing home residents have been victims of physical aggression; 7.3 percent claimed they were verbally abused. A third report discussed an investigation in which 12 nurse observers found 30 incidents of aggression between residents in one eight-hour shift. Victims were most commonly male and often had “wandering cognitive processing problems.”

A report released earlier this year by the Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed a widespread “understatement of deficiencies,” that included malnutrition, severe bedsores, overuse of prescription medications, and nursing home resident abuse in the nation’s nursing home inspection reports. The report stated that nursing home inspectors routinely ignore or minimize problems that pose serious, immediate patient threats.

Facilities are generally only inspected once a year by overworked and underpaid state employees. Federal officials sometimes attempt to validate state inspector work by joining them on visits or conducting follow-ups. It was in a follow-up that the GAO discovered the state missed at least one serious deficiency in 15 percent of all inspections. Worse, in nine states, inspectors missed serious problems in over 25 percent from 2002 to 2007.

There are 16,400 nursing homes with over 1.5 million residents nationwide; approximately one-fifth of the homes were cited for serious deficiencies last year. “Poor quality of care—worsening pressure sores or untreated weight loss—in a small, but unacceptably high number of nursing homes, continues to harm residents or place them in immediate jeopardy, that is, at risk of death or serious injury,” the report said. Taxpayers spend about $72.5 billion annually to subsidize nursing home care and facilities must meet federal standards to participate in Medicaid and Medicare, which covers over two-thirds of its residents, at a cost of over $75 billion annually.

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse tends to be underreported because individual homes do not take elder abuse seriously and residents fear embarrassment, injury, even incapacitation for speaking up.

JONATHAN D. GLATER wrote an article on the proganda and millions spent on trying to grant immunity to corporation who committ negligence to protect insurance company profits.  

Thomas J. Donohue, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce congratulated a group of executives, lobbyists and insurance lawyers to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform.  But it is still too early to declare an end to the so-called tort wars, a decades-old propaganda movement to protect coporations and the profits of the insurance companies.  Corporate interests have won several potent victories, but trial lawyers continue to try to undo legislation restricting litigation and are pursuing new strategies of their own.

In state courts, where most civil litigation plays out, the number of suits involving auto accidents, allegations of medical malpractice and the like fell steadily from 1995 to 2005, according to the National Center for State Courts. The Chamber of Commerce says the number of megaverdicts for more than $100 million dropped to 2 last year, from 27 in 2000.

The chief executive of the American Association for Justice, Jon Haber, is skeptical of the results of spending by the Chamber of Commerce and its members to hobble lawsuits. And he defends the new name of his organization as reflecting what it does, rather than who its members are.  “The chamber’s political portfolio looks a lot like the portfolio of many Wall Street banks these days — a large number of bad bets that did not pay off but cost their members an awful lot of money,” Mr. Haber said.

He can rattle off recent victories for trial lawyers including voters in Washington State, for example, last year approved a bill that allows people to collect triple damages if an insurer unreasonably denies a claim.

In Colorado, an initiative to limit lawyers’ fees was answered with a barrage of proposals that would limit executive compensation, cap real estate sales commissions and raise the maximum amount of damages payable as a result of shoddy construction, among other things. All the initiatives were eventually withdrawn.

At the federal level, trial lawyers are pushing for a law that would make it easier for consumers to sue instead of having to submit to binding arbitration, as many contracts — for credit cards, for example — now require. The trial lawyers are also trying to make it harder for defendants to keep legal proceedings secret. “There are a number of things that are very much pro-civil justice that are starting to work through Congress,” Mr. Haber said.

The fight to change tort laws has developed into a big business in itself, with plenty of people invested in keeping the battle going.   Officials at the Institute for Legal Reform, the chamber unit, would not specify how much it spends annually on media and publicity campaigns, except to say it’s in the millions. And many organizations, nationally and in the states, lobby on both sides.

But the chamber itself, which represents millions of businesses of all sizes, is the biggest spender on the lobbying. In 2006, it spent $72.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group that tracks money in politics.

Anti-consumer groups came up with a multipronged propaganda strategy, involving advertising aimed at voters picking judges and continued lobbying of lawmakers. This “demonstration project" was successful enough that the Institute for Legal Reform has expanded it over the years. At the same time, businesses have become more active in state supreme court judicial campaigns and, in the 2006 election cycle, gave twice as much as lawyers did, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

To help deliver a pro-business message, advocates have hit upon a ranking system. One list ranks “judicial hellholes,” as compiled by the American Tort Reform Association, and another identifies those states deemed by corporate general counsels to be most and least friendly to businesses. (That list comes from the Chamber of Commerce.)

In Mississippi, which received the worst ranking on the chamber’s list, advocates of limits on lawsuits made a special effort. In 2002 and 2004, state lawmakers passed legislation that, among other things, capped how much plaintiffs could recover in punitive damages and in noneconomic damages — compensation for pain and suffering, for example.

But Lance L. Stevens, a Mississippi lawyer and former president of the state’s association of trial lawyers, said that even after the changes to the tort laws, the state has moved up in the ranking by only a few spots. General counsels at big corporations are not critical of Mississippi because of its legal system, he said. “It is the corporate lawyers for the Fortune 500 companies expressing their general disgust for Mississippi and their mistaken belief that we are culturally retarded.”

Corporate executives say they want limits on noneconomic damages in order to reduce unpredictability in jury verdicts. But the caps hurt the very people who most need help — low-income people who sustain injuries, Mr. Stevens said. People who earn a lot of money can claim significant lost income as part of their injury. The unemployed, children, the elderly or anyone else with little earning potential stands to recover less for the same injury than someone in the work force.


This is a well-written editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine discussing why it is important to preserve people’s rights to bring tort actions. It is written by the editor of the NEJM himself.

Volume 359:1-3 July 3, 2008 Number 1
Why Doctors Should Worry about Preemption
Gregory D. Curfman, M.D., Stephen Morrissey, Ph.D., and Jeffrey M. Drazen, M.D. 

A leading drug company may be poised to win a landmark legal victory next fall. If the drug manufacturer, Wyeth, prevails in a case soon to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court (Wyeth v. Levine),1 drug companies could effectively be immunized against state-level tort litigation if their products that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are later found to be defective.

A medical-device company won such a victory in April. In Riegel v. Medtronic,2 the Supreme Court determined that a product-liability lawsuit against Medtronic in a state court was preempted because the device had received FDA approval. Preemption is a legal doctrine based on the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that when federal and state laws are at odds, federal law takes precedence. Its application to state tort litigation is a radical extension of its original meaning.

Medtronic won its case because the 1976 law that grants the FDA authority to regulate medical devices contains a clause asserting that state requirements with regard to medical devices are preempted by federal requirements. Although the preemption clause is silent on common-law tort actions, the Supreme Court (with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the Court) interpreted the preemption clause broadly to include such actions.

Unlike the law governing medical devices, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which provides the statutory framework for the regulation of drugs by the FDA, contains no such preemption clause. Thus, in Wyeth v. Levine — which concerns a patient who lost her arm after an injection of Wyeth’s antiemetic drug Phenergan — the Court will decide whether preemption of state tort litigation is implied by the law, even though it is not explicitly stated.

Previous administrations and the FDA considered tort litigation to be an important part of an overall regulatory framework for drugs and devices; product-liability litigation by consumers was believed to complement the FDA’s regulatory actions and enhance patient safety. Margaret Jane Porter, former chief counsel of the FDA, wrote, "FDA product approval and state tort liability usually operate independently, each providing a significant, yet distinct, layer of consumer protection."3 Persons who are harmed have the right to seek legal redress. Preemption would erase that right.

But in the past few years, the government’s views have shifted, and the FDA has reversed its position, now claiming that common-law tort actions are preempted. The FDA argues that tort liability stifles innovation in product development and delays the approval process, and that lay juries are incapable of making determinations about product safety. It has been argued, however, that Congress, not unelected appointees of a federal agency, has the power to decide whether preemption should apply.

Drug and device companies have chosen an inauspicious moment to attack the right of patients to seek redress. A series of pivotal reports on patient safety from the Institute of Medicine, as well as numerous articles in scholarly journals, has put the issue of patient safety in the national spotlight. Although frivolous lawsuits should not be condoned, product-liability litigation has unquestionably helped to remove unsafe products from the market and to prevent others from entering it. Through the process of legal discovery, litigation may also uncover information about drug toxicity that would otherwise not be known. Preemption will thus result in drugs and devices that are less safe and will thereby undermine a national effort to improve patient safety.

Owing in part to a lack of resources, approval of a new drug by the FDA is not a guarantee of its safety (see timeline).4 As the Institute of Medicine has reported, FDA approval is usually based on short-term efficacy studies, not long-term safety studies.5 Despite the diligent attention of the FDA, serious safety issues often come to light only after a drug has entered the market. The FDA, which — unlike most other federal agencies — has no subpoena power, knows only what manufacturers reveal.

Why should doctors be concerned about preemption? In stripping patients of their right to seek redress through due process of law, preemption of common-law tort actions is not only unjust but will also result in the reduced safety of drugs and medical devices for the American people. Preemption will undermine the confidence that doctors and patients have in the safety of drugs and devices. If injured patients are unable to seek legal redress from manufacturers of defective products, they may instead turn elsewhere.

In May, a Congressional hearing on preemption was held by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. As we stated in our testimony to the committee, to ensure the safety of medical devices, we urge Congress to act quickly to reverse the Riegel decision. Congressman Waxman and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), are poised to introduce legislation that would unambiguously eliminate the possibility of preemption of common-law tort actions for medical devices. And if the Supreme Court rules for preemption in Wyeth v. Levine, which we hope it will not, Congress should consider similar legislation for drugs. Such legislation is in the best interest of the health and safety of the American public.

Dr. Curfman is the executive editor, Dr. Morrissey the managing editor, and Dr. Drazen the editor-in-chief of the Journal.   An interactive timeline is available with the full text of this article at www.nejm.org.


1. Wyeth v. Levine, cert. granted, 128 S. Ct. 1118 (2008).
2.  Riegel v. Medtronic, 128 S. Ct. 999 (2008).
3..Porter MJ. The Lohr decision: FDA perspective and position. Food Drug Law J 1997;52:7-11. [ISI][Medline]
4.  Kessler DA, Vladeck DC. A critical examination of the FDA’s efforts to preempt failure-to-warn claims. Georgetown Law J 2008;96(2). (Accessed June 13, 2008, at  http://lsr.nellco.org/georgetown/ois/papers/2/.)
5. Baciu A, Stratton K, Burke SP, eds. The future of drug safety: promoting and protecting the health of the public. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2007.

A new article, ‘Torts Provide Best Relief for Nursing Home Residents,’ is now available free from Clifford Law Offices web site at http://www.cliffordlaw.com. The Chicago law office is posting legal articles on their website in an effort to educate the public about legal matters.

Torts Provide Best Relief for Nursing Home Residents

Clifford’s Notes, Chicago Lawyer, 08/01/2005
By Robert A. Clifford

A man in his 70s with a psychotic disorder, known as someone who smokes in prohibited areas, sneaks out of his room in a Niles nursing home when two of the three nurses on duty are on a break.

He leaves the dementia unit and wanders into an unused wing of the hospital, where he lights a cigarette that causes most of the room to be engulfed in flames. He is burned over 25 percent of his body, and both of his legs have to be amputated.

Another nursing home in suburban Niles fails to adequately supervise a 71-year-old woman who falls down the stairs in her wheelchair.

In Chicago, a nursing-home care worker is charged with involuntary manslaughter earlier this year after she allegedly attacked a 62-year-old resident, dragging him out of bed and causing him to fall and break his hip. He dies of a heart attack a week later, and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office rules it a result of the stress of the assault.

Reports of nursing-home abuse appear to be on the rise for a number of reasons: the growing aging population, a greater cognizance of neglect and abuse of the elderly and the increasing specialized care for the aged. Projections of 2000 census data indicate that the elderly population will rise to 71 million Americans by 2030, more than twice the number counted in the 2000 census. By 2050, the elderly population is expected to reach nearly 87 million, comprising about 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Who is going to take care of all of the aged people, given the number of small families, divorced couples and working people? Much of the care will be left to the 18,000 nursing homes operating in this country.

Nursing homes did not really begin to develop until after World War II, when the federal government began licensing and regulating them. With the passage of Medicare and medicaid legislation in 1965 that authorized federal reimbursements for these homes, the number of beds soared, and nursing homes became big business, from private sole-proprietorship facilities to corporate chain operations.

Such facilities deal with residents’ needs ranging from rehabilitation to custodial care. Although a host of federal regulations are in place and administered under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state governments are responsible for enforcing compliance with federal and state regulations. Generally, the state’s public health department conducts inspections.

When abuse and neglect occur, it is possible to bring a breach of contract action when residents and their families sign an agreement specifying a certain quality of care. But it is generally under state tort law that nursing home residents and their families appear to find the greatest satisfaction and relief.

In Illinois, the Nursing Home Care Act, 210 ILCS 45/1-101 (2005), deals with such facilities. When it was originally passed in 1979, it was hailed as the most comprehensive legislation in the nation dealing with long-term care. The act explains the conditions necessary to provide adequate long-term care and penalties for failing to meet them, with the most drastic remedy being license revocation and closing the facility.

Although such laws are necessary to protect the elderly, they do little for those who personally suffer harm. It is generally left to negligence standards to compensate those who suffer at the hands of nursing home workers. The courts, though, have made a distinction between professional negligence and ordinary negligence, both of which can occur in a nursing home facility.

For example in Myers v. Heritage Enterprises Inc., 354 Ill.App.3d 241, 820 N.E.2d 604 (4th Dist.2004), a 78-year-old resident of a downstate nursing home fractured both legs when she fell while being transported in a special lift. She died two weeks later, apparently of unrelated causes.

The executor of her estate filed a lawsuit alleging negligent transfer and supervision of the patient under the NHCA, as well as a common law negligence. The trial court instructed the jury, though, that only expert testimony could be used to determine if negligence occurred. "You must not attempt to determine this question from any personal knowledge you have," was part of the court’s instruction under I.P.I. 105.01.

On appeal, however, the court reversed and remanded, holding that the plaintiff was prejudiced by such an instruction. The court found that operation of the lift did not require expert testimony necessitating a professional negligence instruction. Jurors should have been allowed to use their own experience to decide if the nurses’ aides negligently dropped the woman.

In Harris v. Manor Healthcare Corporation, 111 Ill.2d 350, 489 N.E.2d 1374 (1986), the Illinois Supreme Court held that the term "adequate care" was synonymous with "ordinary care" or "reasonable care," thus denoting the use of an ordinary care standard of negligence in proceedings against nursing home attendants.

Illinois defines institutional abuse as, "Any physical or mental injury or sexual assault inflicted on a resident other than by accidental means in a facility," Ill. Admin. Code, Title 77, 300, 330 (1983). Malnutrition, bedsores, improper restraints, scalding in bath water or thermal blanket burns, even food poisoning are some of the institutional abuse that has been witnessed by the residents and their loved ones.

Robert Browning, the 19th century poet, once wrote, "Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be./The last of life, for which the first was made:/Our times are in His hand."

Life in Illinois’ nursing homes may not live up to Browning’s ideal. It is left to the legal community to at least ensure that a decent quality of life for the elderly is sustained, particularly for those who often cannot take care of themselves.

A jury found Life Care Centers of America guilty of negligence. The jury awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages to the family of a former resident who died as a result of the nursing home’s neglect and negligence.

Life Care Centers of America was sued by Dennis Matthews, son of the late Verdie Matthews. He proved the nursing home allowed Mrs. Matthews to develop severe dehydration and malnutrition which caused her death. 

Thomas Hornbuckle, attorney for Matthews, alleged the nursing home intentionally acted recklessly by falsifying fluid and nutrition records of Mrs. Matthews. Hornbuckle said evidence and witnesses had proved Life Care acted negligently and was at fault in the death of Mrs. Matthews.

Mrs. Matthews, 83, was a resident of the facility from the beginning of April 2006 to May 1, 2006. She was admitted to Bradley Memorial Hospital on May 1, 2006, and died on May 4, 2006. Medical records indicate at the time of admission to the nursing home Mrs. Matthews weighed 105 pounds. At the time of her death four weeks later, she weighed 92 pounds.

Attorney Steve Hornbuckle confirmed the jury found Life Care Centers guilty of negligence in contributing to the death of Mrs. Matthews.   The jury also found the nursing home acted "recklessly," according to Hornbuckle.

The jury will reconvene Monday morning to deliberate on awarding punitive damages. Both attorneys will be given a chance to argue the case.

Jury will decide punitve damages.

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