Imagine spending the last six months of your life in constant pain as an entirely avoidable and easily treatable scabies infestation slowly eats you from the inside out. This is exactly what happened to Rebecca Zeni, a former model who passed away at her nursing home in LaFayette, Georgia in 2015.
Now, imagine learning that this happened to a member of your family and that your loved one’s death was the result of gross negligence on the part of nursing home staff. This is the position Ms. Zeni’s loved one’s were in when they hired Stephen Chance to represent their family in a wrongful death lawsuit against PruittHealth, the parent company of Shepherd Hills Nursing Home, where Ms. Zeni spent the last six agonizing months of her life.
Ms. Zeni’s autopsy was reviewed by forensic pathologist Dr. Kris Sperry, former chief medical examiner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Quoted in an article in USA Today, Dr. Sperry, who has conducted over 6,000 autopsies and supervised 80,000 others, called Ms. Zeni’s condition, “One of the most horrendous things I’ve ever seen in my career as a forensic pathologist.” By the time of her death, Ms. Zeni’s hands had become blackened and her skin was flaking off. Staff was advised to avoid touching her hands for fear that they might “fall off” according to the USA Today article.
A more effective course of action would have been anti-parasite medications and proper laundering techniques. That’s how scabies is treated.
According to records obtained from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), scabies outbreaks were reported at Shepherds Hills Nursing Home in both 2013 and 2015. The 2015 outbreak was reported to have infected 35 residents and staffers.
Treating a scabies outbreak requires washing bedding and anything else that may have come into contact with the parasites in hot water, and to administer proper medication to those infected. But administering proper medication is not something Shepherds Hills Nursing Home is known for. In fact, The Washington Post reports that the facility has a history of being penalized for medication errors, some of which have been life-threatening. This for-profit nursing home has been forced to pay $337,786 in penalties over the past two years and has a one-star rating from Medicare due to a history of patient mistreatment and neglect.
State health inspection records show nearly three-dozen violations between 2014 and 2016 at this facility alone, though 19 other PruittHealth-owned facilities in Georgia have one or two-star ratings from Medicare as well. Yet they still operate. More tragic still, they are not alone.
The Government Accountability Office reports that 70% of nursing homes are run by private, for-profit organizations - many of which have an abysmal safety record, but very little impetus to improve conditions. The DPH is not required to inspect facilities following complaints. This oversight may allow serious injury or death to befall residents living under unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Understanding Your Options
When you lose a loved one due to nursing home abuse or neglect, you have every right to hold staff, management, and owners accountable. This can help provide your family with compensation, justice, and peace of mind while also protecting others against similarly negligent or abusive treatment.
At Watkins, Lourie, Roll & Chance, we have no tolerance for the mistreatment of our most vulnerable citizens. Ms. Zeni had dementia, much like many nursing home residents, and in this weakened state, may have been unable to advocate for herself.
Taken advantage of, marginalized, and left to die in agonizing pain, Ms. Zeni has become the most recent face of gross nursing home neglect. If you suspect a loved one is suffering a similar fate at the hands of negligent or abusive nursing home staff, we are prepared to get to work on your case right away to help prevent further injury. If you have already lost a loved one due to nursing home abuse or neglect, we are here to investigate all causes, identify all contributing factors, and hold those responsible to account.
Please call our Atlanta office at 404-948-4893 to schedule a free consultation and learn more.