I-Team: Horrors at Nursing Homes
A Big I-Team investigation uncovers nursing home residents at risk. Serious risk of abuse, neglect and dangerous living conditions.
The I-Team's Aaron Diamant found it's a widespread problem: where will mom, dad and your grandparents be safe?
When Dorismae Burgardt needed rehab for her leg, her daughters chose Menomonee Falls Health Care Center.
"My expectation was that she would come home in three months," daughter Cathryn Wetsten told us.
But Doris never came home at all. "My mother told me, they dropped me in the shower," Barb Burgardt told the I-Team.
The home's staff was supposed to use a belt to hold her up, but somehow she fell so hard, both her legs snapped.
"She should have been taken to the hospital," Barb told us. "Immediately. She wasn't taken to the hospital until greater than 24 hours after the injury, and by then it was too late to do anything."
Turns out no one reported the fall. State investigators felt not telling anyone about it created a "direct threat" to Burgardt's health. They were right. Dorismae Burgardt died three weeks later.
It gets worse. In just 11 months, from March 2004 through January 2005, a series of state health inspections found 47 deficiencies at the Menomonee Falls Health Care Center.
The state average: Six.
The home got written up for putting patients at risk for abuse, neglect, accidents and low quality of life.
When the I-Team offered the home a chance to come clean - on camera - the facility's owner, Extendicare, turned us down flat.
All we got was a short statement. It offered "condolences to the family," an admission that "despite all the training we provide, falls and accidents can unfortunately happen..." but offered nothing in the way of an explanation.
"My mother went to her grave with two broken legs, and it shouldn't have been that way," an outraged Barb Burgardt told us.
Elenor Kroepel went to her grave with a broken hip. Her daughter, Jane Glaze, remembers getting a strange phone call.
"About 9:30 in the evening, I get a phone call from a CNA whispering on the phone saying, 'you have to come here. Something's happened to your mom.'"
When her daughter showed up to Heartland Healthcare Center in Pewaukee, she found her mother in pain and hysterical.
"Her hip was ballooned and bright red."
And to this day Glaze says no one at the nursing home has told her exactly how her mother fell.
Heartland's owner, Manor Care, wouldn't fill in the gaps for us either. Just another brief statement saying: "We are very sympathetic to Mrs. Kroepel's health problems and feel our staff acted appropriately in providing good care to her and communicating with her family."
Glaze says Manor Care can keep its sympathy. "No one should ever have to go through that, ever."
But the I-Team found there's a pretty good chance more families will. We dug up recent inspection reports for every nursing home in the Milwaukee area. We couldn't believe what we found: case after case of homes with a dozen or more deficiencies.
It would take hours to list them all.
Stephanie Sue Stein is a watchdog for Milwaukee County nursing homes. She told us, "The lives of people in nursing homes in this community are a huge concern to us, and we're not satisfied, and it's not good."
"Do I think that folks are getting good, if not excellent, quality of care when there are that many violations? No. It's not possible," Stein added.
In January 2006, Milwaukee's non-profit Marian Franciscan Center got slapped with 19 deficiencies. Some more serious than others.
Administrator Jim Gresham says the center took it seriously. "Violations are something that are very painful to us as an organization."
Marian-Fran spent big bucks revamping the home's entire care system. Violations on later inspections went way down, but the facility is not off the hook with the state just yet.
Otis Woods is with Wisconsin's Division of Quality Assurance. "They have an obligation to correct it, and we'll continue to monitor them," he told us.
Ridgewood Health Care Center in Racine showed up on the state's radar screen back in March.
Nursing assistant Amelia Clay wound up in court, charged with two felonies. Police claim she nearly ripped an 86-year old resident's ear off.
We tried to talk with her. She refused to comment. But Racine County will have to answer to the state for those alleged incidents. That's because it owns Ridgewood, and uses tax dollars to run it.
"How are they going to ensure that residents continue to be safe from harm? What are they going to do with the staff person?" Otis Woods with Division of Quality Assurance wants to know.
County officials told me they're dealing with it. Geoff Greiveldinger is the Chief of Staff for Racine County. "Racine County is very proud of Ridgewood. We're committed to quality care for the people there," he told us.
I got the company line. But get this. While researching this case, we decided to dig deeper into Ridgewood's background. Turns out, the issue of patient abuse came up on a recent state inspection.
Last November, inspectors found residents in "immediate jeopardy." -- That's about as bad as it gets on an inspection.
County officials told me; in that case, one patient injured another.
"Yes, they are unfortunate incidents and we continue to work that those incidents aren't repeated," Greiveldinger told us.
Still, there are incidents that Cathryn Wetsten and others who have loved ones inside, say happen far too often. "People have to be made aware of what's going on, what's happening in these nursing homes, in these different facilities."
Facilities where families place their loved-ones, place their trust. Facilities that the I-Team learned sometimes fall painfully short.
So what's being done? We discovered as long as nursing homes show progress, the state lets them stay open.
To report complaints or receive nursing home information, visit the Wisconsin State Ombudsman Program or call (800) 815-0015 .
You can also find nursing home inspection reports here