Colorado Family Prevails Against Nursing Home Chain
BY NATE TAYLOR
Judy Johnson describes her parents as having been ""madly in love"" for nearly 70 years before her mother died due to complications from surgery after breaking her ankle at Spring Creek Healthcare Center.
While Johnson says her 87-year-old mother Doris Wolfe's November 2007 death was the hardest thing she's had to live through, a close second was the lawsuit her family endured suing Spring Creek Healthcare Center, 1000 E. Stuart St., for Wolfe's death.
But after a Larimer County jury returned a $375,000 verdict this week against Spring Creek, Johnson says there is a huge sense of victory.
""We're just a little tiny family of four against this huge corporation of nursing homes,"" Johnson said, referring to Spring Creek Healthcare Center's parent company, Sava Senior Care. ""You would never, ever, ever go through (a lawsuit) for any reason other than somebody had been harmed and you felt like you had to fight that fight. It was brutal.""
Sava Senior Care owns approximately 185 nursing homes across the country, including Spring Creek and Fort Collins Health Care Center.
And while Johnson and her family are celebrating the jury's decision, a spokeswoman for Spring Creek Healthcare Center said Sava Senior Care intends to explore its appeal options.
""We disagree with the outcome of this particular judicial matter and do not believe the evidence presented in this case justified this result,"" said Melody Chatelle in a statement on behalf of Spring Creek. ""Our center representatives will continue to explore all appeal options as they move forward with this matter.""
Johnson said her mother stayed at Spring Creek for 17 days to rehabilitate following back surgery at Poudre Valley Hospital. Wolfe broke her ankle the day she was supposed to be sent home.
According to an investigation by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Wolfe may have turned on her call light to request help to go to the bathroom. When Wolfe thought an ""extended amount of time passed"" and no one answered her request, she opted to try to walk toward her walker on her own and fell and broke her ankle.
When asked if Spring Creek Healthcare Center disagreed with the jury's decision because the health department investigation could not determine whether Wolfe pushed the call button, Chatelle said Spring Creek would not comment further on the lawsuit.
Jay Reinan, a Denver lawyer who represented the Wolfe family, said Doris Wolfe did push the button.
""As a result of staffing deficiencies, Mrs. Wolfe was left to decide between soiling herself or attempting to go to the bathroom on her own, and that eventually led to her death,"" Reinan said. ""With a lot of older folks, dignity is important, and that's what happened to Mrs. Wolfe.""
The health department investigation also indicated that Spring Creek X-rayed Wolfe's ankle and found no fracture, but a family physician looked at the X-ray results and determined it was fractured in two places.
Johnson said she hopes the jury's decision will lead to changes at the nursing home.
""As scary and intimidating as it was, that's why we did this - for change,"" Johnson said.
According to the health department Web site, another resident at Spring Creek Health Center was denied help going to the bathroom in February.
""The resident put on her call light and when staff responded, asked for assistance with toileting,"" the report reads. ""The staff member told her s/he didn't have time to assist her and she would have to wet the bed. Another staff member assisted the resident.""
The employee who declined to help the woman was later fired, according to the report.
""Our policies and procedures are, and were at the time, appropriate for meeting the individual needs of the residents we are privileged to serve,"" Spring Creek Healthcare Center said through Chatelle.