Family Files Wrongful Death Suit Against Nursing Home

August 28th, 2009 by WY Daily Staff

Family Files Wrongful Death Suit Against Nursing Home

A York County family is seeking over $26 million in damages from a wrongful death suit filed Monday against Ruxton Health of Williamsburg and its administrator at the time.

This most recent complaint is one of several waged against Ruxton Health in the past four years. The facility, now operating as Envoy of Williamsburg, LLC, received 28 complaints of neglect between January 2006 and April 2008. A medical malpractice suit was filed in October 2008 by the family of Patria Romero. In April 2009, a wrongful death suit against Ruxton brought by the family of Lillian Funn was settled out of court. A wrongful death suit for the death of Lorena Wiggins in 2008 is being prepared.

In the suit filed Monday, Gene and Sue Houston claim Ruxton Health was negligent in its care for Gene’s brother, Roper, who died on Sept. 1, 2007 at the age of 70 following a fall from his hospital bed. Roper fell when a Ruxton employee left his bed side rail down and turned away to retrieve clothing from his closet. Roper Houston sustained a head injury visible by a noticeable lump on the right side of his head and an abrasion, as well as a skin tear with bleeding on his right arm, according to the lawsuit.

At the time, Ruxton staff called Sue Houston to tell her about the fall and assured her Roper was fine. But three days later, Sue, then vacationing in Nags Head, received another call telling her blood was found in Roper’s urine and he had been sent to the emergency room. ER staff irrigated and replaced his catheter and released him. During that time, Sue was driving back from Nag’s Head, checking in repeatedly with staff at Ruxton, says the family’s lawyer, John Zydron of Bennett and Zydron in Norfolk.

“They kept telling her, ‘He’s doing fine, he’s walking around.’ She called several times and they kept saying you don’t need to come,” Zydron said.

An hour after returning to Ruxton from the ER, Roper died. The suit alleges Ruxton staff failed to notify the ER of Roper’s fall and head injury on Sept. 1. Zydron says his physician expert concluded subdural hematoma, or bleeding in the outer layer of the brain, was present and likely killed Roper.

Ruxton Health of Williamsburg was sold in January 2009 and became Envoy of Williamsburg, LLC. The suit will be defended by Ruxton of Williamsburg’s insurance company, which will also handle defense of Ruxton’s administrator at the time, Michael L. Cleveland.

Many staff members, including Cleveland, were let go when Envoy bought the business, said Nancy Ramsey, Envoy’s administrator. “With the new ownership came a new administration, new policies and procedures and of course, there have been changes in our staff,” she said.

In May 2008, nearly nine months after Roper Houston died, Cleveland was asked to appear before the Virginia Board of Long-Term Care Administrators committee. The committee wanted to investigate allegations Cleveland had shown “unprofessional conduct,” as outlined in the Regulations Governing the Practice of Nursing Home Administrators, while employed by Norfolk Health Care.

After deliberating in closed session, the committee ordered Cleveland to complete a total of 64 hours of board-approved courses, covering leadership, ethics and legal liability, before March 31, 2009. Cleveland no longer works for Ruxton and now resides in Charlottesville.

To be part of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, nursing homes in the U.S. have to meet requirements set by Congress. State governments administer health and fire safety inspections at least once a year and more often if necessary. Certified nursing homes must meet over 180 regulatory standards to pass health inspections.

The health inspection team consists of trained inspectors, including at least one registered nurse. Using the standards, the team looks at the care of the residents, how the staff and residents interact and the nursing home environment.

Fire safety specialists also evaluate whether nursing homes meet Life Safety Code (LSC) standards set by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). The fire safety inspection examines construction, protection and operation features designed to provide safety from fire, smoke and panic.

In its most recent inspection, examining the period from March 2008 to May 2009, Ruxton of Williamsburg received a total of 23 health deficiencies, 14 more than the state average. The nursing home also received 10 fire safety deficiencies; the state average was four.

The amount of deficiencies does not determine whether a nursing home receives licensure, said Chris Durrer, director of Virginia’s Office of Licensure and Certification. “It depends on the severity and federal standards,” he said.

A nursing home must receive a G-level deficiency to be re-evaluated, Durrer said. Those deficiencies would include a threat to patient safety, security, confidentiality or respect.

If an inspection team finds that a nursing home doesn’t meet a standard, it issues a deficiency citation, according to Medicare’s Web site on nursing home inspections.

If the nursing home doesn’t correct its problems, Medicare terminates its agreement with the home, thus requiring the movement of residents with Medicare or Medicaid to a certified home. While that doesn’t necessarily mean a nursing home would have to close, Durrer said nearly 80 percent of nursing home residents likely receive Medicare and Medicaid.

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