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Did an Illinois nursing home fail in its duty of care to deceased resident?

Old lady (91 yrs.) in the foster home

A recent incident at a Belleville nursing home is once again raising questions regarding the standard of care Illinois nursing homes and continuing care facilities owe their patients. The Madison-St. Clair Record reports that the Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory Center is under investigation for allegedly misrepresenting the facts surrounding a resident’s fatal fall. The incident is the latest in a series of nursing home abuse and neglect cases that have made headlines in Illinois and across the nation. The details of the case are concerning to those with loved ones in Illinois continuing care facilities, as well as to a nursing home abuse lawyer in Crystal Lake.

Accidental death vs. negligence

Cleda Juanita Simmons, a resident of Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory Center’s long-term care facility, was found dead at the bottom of a staircase by a nurse arriving for her morning shift. The daughter of the victim is alleging that the home not only improperly removed the body from the scene of the accident, but also that it misrepresented facts to law enforcement.  The defendant told authorities the victim’s next of kin was notified before the body was moved, but the victim’s daughter alleges this is false.

The complaint further alleges that the wheelchair-bound victim rolled down a hallway, opened a fire door that was supposed to set off a loud alarm, and then fell down the stairs to her death. She was then discovered at the bottom of the stairs by a nurse, who noted her bruised body and a pool of blood that appeared to be the result of a head wound.

The victim’s daughter filed suit against the nursing home on the grounds that the defendant violated the terms of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act and the Illinois Survival Act. She is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 for the pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of dignity and disability her mother experienced leading up to her death. The victim’s daughter is also alleging pain and suffering, wrongful death and spoliation of evidence in regards to the facility’s handling of the incident.

Standard of care expectations

The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act states that all nursing homes in the state of Illinois are liable for the mental, physical and emotional well-being of their residents. Known as the standard of care, the Act dictates that:

  • Facility owners, employees or administrators must not abuse or neglect residents.

  • The facility must immediately notify a resident’s physician, representative and next of kin regarding a resident death.

  • The facility owner and licensee are liable for any intentional or negligent act or omission by agents or employees that results in an injury to a resident.

  • The facility must prevent unnecessary injuries to residents to the fullest extent possible.

Under traditional common law guidelines, the only individual able to seek damages for a personal injury was the actual victim. However, the passage of the Illinois Survival Act by the Illinois General Assembly modified this principle, preserving the cause of action after death. A nursing home abuse lawyer in Crystal Lake knows that this allows representatives of the decedent to recover damages for injuries sustained leading up to the time of death.

Further investigation

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, state investigators recently completed their investigation of the Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory Center following the incident. The investigators’ report stated that it was the duty of the facility to ensure that all residents were adequately supervised, and that the home itself must remain free from accident hazards. The report also asserted that employees and agents of the home must assist in the prevention of onsite accidents.

Among the notable findings of the investigation was the fact that the door that separated the hallway from the stairwell did not have an adequate alarm. The alarm was supposed to sound loudly enough when opened to alert facility representatives to a resident presence in the stairwell. However, investigators found that the alarm’s volume had been turned down.

Another concerning finding of the investigation was the fact that the paramedics instructed the facility to call the coroner immediately after the paramedics determined the victim was, in fact, deceased. However, the coroner was not contacted immediately as directed, and instead was called after the victim’s body had already been transported to a funeral home.

Additional indications of trouble

According to The Belleville News-Democrat, this is not the first time Senior Healthcare Management, the Skokie-based operators of Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory Center, have been under scrutiny. Senior Healthcare Management currently operates nine nursing homes throughout Illinois.  Like Midwest, all nine have a one-star rating from Medicare, the lowest possible rating that can be given. Midwest also accrued fines in excess of $28,500 within the last three years.  This is cause for concern for anyone with a loved one in a Senior Healthcare Management-operated facility, as well as for a nursing home abuse lawyer in Crystal Lake.

Decisions looming

It is yet to be determined if the plaintiff will receive damages related to the incident. It is also unknown if Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory Center will be issued a state license violation for breaching the standard of care.  Despite these looming decisions, the incident at Midwest is raising serious questions about a nursing home’s duty of care to its residents. Anyone with questions regarding the standard of care in nursing homes or the provisions outlined in the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act should contact an attorney.

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