Family of a nursing home patient who died at Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center were granted $5.2 million in a juried malpractice and wrongful death suit against the facility and its owner Thursday.
The suit was filed in February of last year, according to court documents, by plaintiffs Rosey Perkins and Rhonda Coppak, who are listed as representatives of the estate of Martha Bull.
Bull died in the facility April 7, 2008, a little over a week after she was admitted to the facility for 30 days of rehabilitation following a stroke.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys from the Law Office of Thomas Buchanan filed the 50-page complaint, which details events at the nursing home believed to have caused or contributed to Bull’s death.
According to the complaint, Bull and her family anticipated she would return home after her stay in the facility.
She had recently been hospitalized with an abdominal abscess that the documents say was treated before she was admitted to the nursing home.
Three days before her death, plaintiffs alleged Bull began complaining of abdominal pain, but employees failed to assess her condition and contact a physician.
On the day of her death, according to the complaint, Bull was documented at the facility as "visibly upset, cool, clammy, and nauseated, rendering her unable to eat or participate in physical therapy."
"Notes in Ms. Bull’s nursing home chart reflect that her abdomen became firm and round by 9 a.m.," the complaint states.
The complaint goes on to say that at 9:47 a.m., Bull’s nurse, Debra Gault, sent a fax to Bull’s physician and notified him that Bull had been depressed for about three days.
The fax did not include information about Bull’s complaints of abdominal pain or her physical condition, according to the complaint.
By 2:20 p.m., a fax was sent to Bull’s physician that stated Bull had physical symptoms of distress, according to the complaint.
Just after 3 p.m., the physician’s office replied with a fax, which it is noted is the standard method of communication with the nursing home, that stated Bull should be transferred to the emergency department for a "CT scan or surgery evaluation."
Sherry Morgan is listed as the recipient of the fax, and the complaint states she sent the fax order to a newly installed fax machine in a medication closet in the hall where Bull resided.
Bull was not sent to receive emergency care, and she was found dead in her room at 10:20 p.m., the document states.
The suite states the last documented assessment in nurse’s notes was eight hours and 20 minutes before Bull’s death.
The fax ordering Bull’s transfer to receive emergency care was not found on the fax machine at Bull’s hall until the next morning at around 10 a.m., according to the complaint.
An investigation conducted at Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center April 22, 2008 by the Arkansas Office of Long Term Care, the state regulatory agency over long-term care facilities, determined the center failed to ensure the patient’s physician was consulted regarding a significant decline in condition.
"The failed practice resulted in immediate jeopardy, which caused or could have caused serious harm, injury or death to Resident #1…," the Department of Health and Human Services report generated from the investigation states.
The DHS report also states Bull’s nurse did not document complaints of abdominal pain or her physical condition in the first fax to Bull’s physician the morning of her death, but the nurse inquired about possibly prescribing an anti-depressant.
The state found Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center failed to ensure necessary care and services were provided, according to the report.
The suit’s defendant was Michael Morton, listed with owned Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and other entities with the same principal business operation address in Fort Smith.
The other entities owned by Morton were alleged by the plaintiffs to be "shell entities created by Michael Morton for the purpose of fragmenting his business enterprise of operating nursing home facilities and creating insolvency by sheltering cash and other assets from potential judgement creditors."
According to the complaint, Morton siphoned funds from nursing homes he owned in order to create insolvency to protect himself from future judgements.
In a provided example, the creation of Central Arkansas Nursing Centers, Inc. required facilities, including Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, to pay "exorbitant fees" to the entity in exchange for management and administrative services.
Another "shell company" called Greenbrier Nursing Property, Inc., was created to extract money from Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the form of rent in an effort to shelter cash and assets from potential judgements, according to plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs alleged Morton received substantial compensation as owner of entities requiring funds from Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which created conditions at the center that led to injuries and the death of Bull.
Conditions that led to Bull’s death are listed as manners in which the facility’s cost-cutting, spending and staffing were instituted "with no regard for the discretion and the interest of Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center or its residents."
In directing funds out of the facility, plaintiffs alleged Morton and his related entities "created a spending and staffing strategy which minimized safety and training in order to maximize profits."
Martha Deaver, director of Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents, said Friday she has received numerous complaints from Morton’s nursing homes, and one was issued against Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center last week.
Deaver’s reports are sent to AOLTC. She declined to comment on the nature of the recent complaint. Of Thursday’s jury ruling, Deaver said, "There is hope."
"When these kinds of verdicts come out, it lets the public know and the nursing homes who are bad players know there are repercussions for nursing homes. The public at large, the jury, will hold them accountable."