On March 4, 2013 the family of Fort Wayne resident Betty Riley filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Indianapolis-based Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County (“HHC”) and American Senior Communities, LLC. (“ASC”). The lawsuit alleges that HHC and ASC were negligent in causing the death of Betty Riley who was a resident of Summit City Nursing & Rehabilitation (“Summit City”), a long-term nursing care facility located at 2940 North Clinton Street in Fort Wayne. Summit City is one of the many nursing homes owned by HHC and leased to ASC to operate.
On December 13, 2011 Betty died after suffering a subdural and subarachnoid hematoma due to a fall at the nursing home on December 3, 2011. Betty had been a resident in the Alzheimer’s unit of Summit City. Betty’s family was not told about the fall, which caused an egg-sized hematoma on the back of her head, until she was taken to Parkview Hospital on December 5, 2011 with slurred speech and facial drooping. No nursing home personnel accompanied Betty to the hospital with the medics, and Betty was unable to explain what happened. Nursing home administrators later told the family that “a few days ago Betty had a stroke which caused her to fall and hit her head.” It was not until December 30, 2011, when family members were watching the evening news, that they discovered the true cause of their mother’s death – homicide due to being assaulted by another resident with Alzheimer’s. When family members then went to the facility to discuss the situation—their mother’s homicide at the facility—the administrators on site hid in an office and refused to meet with the family.
The Indiana State Department of Health (“ISDH”) investigated the circumstances surrounding Betty’s death. This investigation revealed that Betty was in the main dining room when she was involved in an unprovoked altercation with another resident who was known to have behavior issues. During the altercation, Betty was shoved to the ground causing her to hit her head. At the time of the incident, there were no staff members in the dining room. During the most recent annual recertification inspection on January 27, 2011, the ISDH had just cited Summit City for failure to provide adequate supervision to prevent a fall in the Alzheimer’s unit. In response the nursing home submitted a plan
of correction and promised not to leave Alzheimer’s residents unsupervised in the dining room.
After conducting an investigation, the ISDH determined that the facility failed to provide adequate supervision in the dining room of the secured Alzheimer’s Unit to prevent falls and resident altercations which result in fall, injury, hospitalization, and death. The ISDH also cited Summit City for poor record-keeping and for failing to notify the coroner of Betty’s death as required by law.
The Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County was formed to operate an indigent-care hospital, Wishard, in Indianapolis. Since 2003, however, HCC has been acquiring nursing homes all across Indiana as a means to fund the new Wishard hospital expected to open in December 2013. HHC now owns more than 60 nursing homes around Indiana. These nursing homes are a cash cow because, due to its status as a municipal corporation, HHC can obtain reimbursements from Medicaid at a rate nearly double what a private nursing home operator receives. In other words, HHC leverages its status as a county hospital to get more Medicaid funds from the federal government. Commentators, Senior Citizen’s groups, and mainstream media have questioned whether this scheme is appropriate. Betty Riley’s family doesn’t have an opinion on this issue, but the family is concerned that the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County is placing profits over quality care for the elderly at the nursing homes it owns. HHC makes millions each year from its nursing homes, but leaves facilities like Summit City understaffed. If HHC had one more CNA on duty in the dining room of Summit City
on December 3, 2011, Betty Riley would not have died. Like many of the HCC nursing homes, Summit City has a rating of “Much Below Average.” (Medicare Nursing Home Profile for Summit City, www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompaare/profile.aspx).
Despite the egregious facts surrounding Betty Riley’s death and the attempted cover-up, HHC and ASC have refused to apologize or accept responsibility by making any settlement offer to the family. Any recovery made by the family would be capped at $300,000 under Indiana law. Of that amount, HHC and ASC would be responsible for only the first $187,001, with the balance paid by the Indiana Patient Compensation Fund.
Bruce Riley, Betty’s son, did not want to have to file a lawsuit, but HHC and ASC have left him and his brother with no alternative: “I just want them to take responsibility for what happened and to apologize for lying to us about how mom died.”
On March 5, 2013 at 1:00 PM, the Riley family and their attorneys will hold a press conference to discuss the filing of the wrongful death lawsuit with the Indiana Department of Insurance. The press conference will be held at the Boughter Law Office, 127 West Berry Street, Suite 1001, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802. You can see the filed complaint here.
About the Author
Stephen Wagner has been selected repeatedly by his peers as an "Indiana Super Lawyer" and was awarded "Trial Lawyer of the Year" in 2006 by the Trial Lawyers Association. Stephen's law expertise are in the areas of personal injury, worker's compensation, civil rights, class action litigation and medical malpractice.