A Maryland nursing home is accused of deadly neglect. St. Thomas More in Hyattsville has an extensive history of health and safety violations. Tonight state health officials are blaming poor medical care for a patient's death. One state health official told Fox5 patients at St. Thomas more are at higher risk than at other nursing because of the ongoing deficiencies.
A former patient at St. Thomas More claims he almost died. James Franklin remains weak and bed ridden, six months after his stay at the 230-bed facility for what should have been the road to recovery. "I mean I didn't have no idea that I would still be here in the hospital. And for me to be in the hospital has been a tragic chance for me," Franklin told FOX5 from his hospital bed.
In May, Franklin was discharged from the hospital and sent to St. Thomas more for rehabilitation. Medical records show he had a sacral ulcer, commonly called a pressure ulcer or bedsore. At that stage it was small and healing. A month later, he was rushed back to the hospital, the bedsore now nearly as long as a football covering his back and buttocks, with an infection deep into the tissue and muscles. "I screamed and I fell to the floor. I never seen nothing like that in my entire life," said Patricia Franklin, after seeing her husband's wound for the first time.
The wound had massive gangrene and a foul smelling discharge putting him into septic shock, when the body's organs begin to shut down. "One of the doctors told me if they didn't get him there like they did that he was going, he would have died," Ms. Franklin recalled.
He's been in and out of the hospital ever since, and is now recovering at a different nursing home. In the meantime, Franklin's wife filed a complaint against St. Thomas More with the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality. The agency which oversees nursing homes revealed to FOX5, St. Thomas more is under intense scrutiny. The facility touted on its website about quality care and prominently featured pictures of Maryland's lieutenant governor visiting back in September, but state inspections show a stark contrast. It was cited for 60 deficiencies in 2010, another 36 last year and this year it was cited with 27 deficiencies, nearly triple the state average. Nancy Grimm, director of Maryland's OHCQ recited just a few, "Medication errors, oversight of care plans, writing care plans, chemical restraints, violation of resident rights..."
The repeated violations prompted the state to list St. Thomas More as a special focus facility, a nationwide Medicare list of nursing homes with a history of persistent poor quality care. Out of Maryland's more than 200 nursing homes, it's only one of two on the list and the only one that has failed to show improvement over 19-months. The state has given St. Thomas More until next march to make significant progress or be shut down. Meanwhile investigators have received numerous complaints at the facility this year, including a complaint three months ago when a patient died. "They failed to respond appropriately in an emergency situation and failed to provide the proper care to this patient," said Grimm. She went on to describe the history of deficiencies at the nursing home saying "We definitely have a pattern of failure to address quality issues," and noted that failure did "lead to a death."
Court records show that's not the only allegation of deadly neglect. The nursing home settled a medical malpractice lawsuit last year for an undisclosed amount, in the 2005 death of a patient from infected bed sores. The same kind of infection that nearly killed James Franklin. "I've seen it more times than I care to tell you in the 15-years I've been doing this," said Michael Winkelman, a medical malpractice attorney.
Winkelman has no connection to these cases but based on his experience says bed sores shouldn't come close to killing you.
"The medical community would likely suggest there are certain extreme circumstances where this would happen. But in our view, if patient safety is a priority, number one, this should never happen," he said.
However, in Maryland the legal hurdles to file a medical malpractice lawsuit and financial caps on jury awards make it difficult to hold bad nursing homes accountable. "You can hurt someone, but if you don't hurt them badly enough then you are okay because we can't do anything about it and that's wrong," said Winkelman.
The state has hit St. Thomas More with sanctions and thousands of dollars in fines. But Grimm said "It hasn't worked" to make care at the facility better.
NMS Healthcare which owns the nursing home refused a request for an interview but in a statement said "St. Thomas More is currently appealing deficiencies that were cited... And no further comment is appropriate."
The company boasted Medicare's website shows the number of nurses on staff is much above average, but failed to mention Medicare ranked it overall "below average" and on health inspections "much below average". "We're not seeing enough progress," Grimm said regarding St. Thomas More's repeated deficiencies and lack of improvement. Asked if patients at the facility are compromised, she said "There's a concern that yes that they are."
The state says it investigates all complaints at the facility. Its inspections are always unannounced and can happen any time of the day or night. Last month state health investigators conducted a full inspection at St. Thomas More. Normally that's only done on an annual basis, but this is the second time this year. The facility wasn't due for another full inspection until March, but because of the numerous complaints and recent death the state went back five months early. The results of the inspection, however, have not been released.
Officials investigated Franklin's case in August, but found no evidence of neglect. The Franklins aren't convinced. "They absolutely should be shut down." Given the nursing home's continued problems, state regulators say they are on track to revoke its license. That would cut off the flow of Medicare and Medicaid funds and shut the facility down.
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