A jury in Kanawha County, W.Va., awarded an elderly woman’s family $91.5 million in damages last month against a Charleston nursing home, after finding that nursing home workers were responsible for the woman’s death. Jurors found that workers at the nursing home, Heartland of Charleston, failed to feed and care for Dorothy Douglas, who stayed at the home for about three weeks in 2009 before dying at age 87. It was reported that she died of complications from dehydration.
The verdict consisted of $80 million in punitive damages and $11.5 million in compensatory damages. In September 2009, Tom Douglas took his mother to Heartland of Charleston while waiting for space to open in another nursing home. Mrs. Douglas suffered from Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and several other conditions. When Mrs. Douglas was admitted to the nursing home, she could walk, speak and recognize family members. After checking his mother into Heartland, Tom Douglas said he discovered that the staffers had labeled her a fall risk and confined her to a wheelchair. By the time she was transferred to the Heritage Center nursing home in Huntington three weeks later, she was unresponsive, had lost 15 pounds and she was severely dehydrated. She died at Cabell Huntington Hospital on Sept. 24, a day after her transfer.
Heartland did not have enough nurses on staff to care for Mrs. Douglas. Several former Heartland workers testified during the trial that properly caring for all of the residents was impossible. In 2009, the nursing home reported an employee turnover rate of 112%. During the trial it was proved that the nursing home’s business model revolved around keeping the number of residents high, and the number of staff to care for them low. Heartland of Charleston is owned by corporations that control hundreds of nursing homes across the country. In 2009, ManorCare Inc., the parent company named in the lawsuit, reported earnings of about $4 billion and assets of nearly $8 billion.
ManorCare owns seven Heartland-brand nursing homes in West Virginia. According to Medicaid reports, only one of those seven ranks above average in overall care. Heartland of Charleston, Heartland of Beckley, Heartland of Rainelle, Heartland of Keyser, and Heartland of Martinsburg, each received one out of a possible five stars in overall care. From February 2010 to April 2011, state inspectors cited the Charleston home for 28 deficiencies — more than double the state’s average of 13.
Michael J. Fuller, Lance Reins, Amy Quezan and Bryant Chaffin, all lawyers with the McHugh Law Group, with offices in Hattiesburg, Miss. and Charleston, W. Va., represented the family and did a very good job.
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