Nursing Home is charged with manslaughter for death of elderly resident
In what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind case in Massachusetts, a nursing-home corporation has been slapped with manslaughter charges for the 2004 death of an elderly Acton patient who wheeled herself into a stairwell and plunged to her death.
Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America faces up to $16,000 in fines if convicted in the April 17, 2004, death of 74-year-old patient Julia McCauley. A conviction could also result in the company losing its license and having its Medicaid funding cut off, officials said. Attorney General Martha Coakley said the company was indicted on criminal manslaughter charges because workers at the Acton Life Care Center acted ``recklessly'' by not ensuring McCauley was properly monitored.
In 1999, McCauley was found unattended in a foyer in her wheelchair and was deemed an ``elopement'' risk. Doctors ordered her to wear an electronic monitoring device called a WanderGuard that would set off an alarm and lock doors if she left a specified area. But Coakley said the doctor's orders disappeared from McCauley's medical charts for nearly three months in 2004 and that she wasn't wearing the device the day she died.``Had Julia McCauley had that WanderGuard on that day, we allege that she would not have gone through that door and she would not have tumbled to her death,'' Coakley said. A Middlesex grand jury yesterday indicted the corporation on three counts, including manslaughter, abuse and neglect, and Medicaid fraud. Coakley said the case is the first time a Massachusetts nursing home has been criminally charged in a patient's death.
In a statement, Life Care officials proclaimed innocence and vowed to ``vigorously defend'' the company against the charges. Company officials also warned that charges would have far-reaching effects on the health-care industry. ``The Attorney General's decision to seek prosecution in a case that involved an accident of a valued patient of more than seven years at Life Care Center of Acton puts every health care provider - physician, hospital, nursing center or home health - at risk of criminal indictment,'' a statement read. Coakley said the decision to press criminal rather than civil charges was made because of the ``collective knowledge of the corporation'' of the alleged negligence.
Life Care operates 260 nursing and assisted-living homes in 28 states, including several in Massachusetts. Coakley said the criminal indictment is not a signal that other patients at Life Care facilities may be at risk. ``We are not alleging that any residents of any of these facilities are in imminent danger,'' she said. No individuals will face any potential penalties but a corporate representative will face arraignment at a future date. Life Care spokeswoman Zofia Long said the company intends to defend the ``reputation and integrity'' of all its employees.