In June 2015, Rebecca Zeni, a former model, wife, and mother, died at Shepherd Hills nursing home in LaFayette, GA from blood poisoning, the result of a scabies infestation so severe that her body was covered in crusts and her fingers were nearly falling off. The medical examiner who reviewed Ms. Zeni’s case has said that her death was likely extremely painful and that she needlessly suffered from the easily-treatable disease.
Today, Ms. Zeni’s daughter is suing the nursing home, Shepherd Hills, and its for-profit parent company, PruittHealth, for neglect and wrongful death. The story gained national attention after the family allowed photos of Ms. Zeni to be published, highlighting alarming flaws within the nursing home industry.
Nursing Home Let Victim Suffer for 2 Years
Scabies are actually quite common in nursing homes. Tiny female mites bury themselves inside human skin and lay eggs. The disease is spread from skin-to-skin contact and can also be passed on through infested clothing and linens. Because the elderly have thinner, looser skin and have immune systems that cause sores to heal less quickly, they are naturally predisposed to skin infections and irritations. Proper care can help avoid and eradicate the disease. However, Shepherd Hills seemed to have shunned every standard protocol for treating residents and staffers with scabies.
Rebecca Zeni became a resident of Shepherd Hills in 2010, admitted with dementia and other ailments that prevented her from living independently. In 2013, the nursing home reported a scabies infestation to the Georgia Department of Health, notifying them of 10 residents and 10 staffers with rashes consistent with scabies. Ms. Zeni developed the trademark painful, itchy rash and was prescribed a topical cream and an oral dose of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug. Typically patients with scabies should be given a course of treatment and put into isolation for 24 hours. Ms. Zeni’s records reveal that not only was she not given the medicine as prescribed by her physician, but that she was not put into isolation, effectively allowing the disease to spread.
Records from Shepherd Hills also indicate that employees infected with scabies were not isolated and were able to continue working, and that soiled linens used by residents with scabies were allowed to be washed along with items used by non-infected residents.
The 2013 scabies outbreak was not the last for Shepherd Hills. In 2014, the nursing home had another infestation and failed to report it to the Georgia Department of Health. In 2015, yet another outbreak occurred and this time, Shepherd Hills reported 20 residents and 15 staffers with rashes. The nursing home also never gave families notice of any of the 3 outbreaks, instead posting a sign that alluded to a situation that was under control. It is believed that Ms. Zeni suffered the entire 2 year period between acquiring the disease in 2013 and her painful death in 2015, having never been cured of the ailment at any point.
Nursing Home Repeatedly Cited
Shepherd Hills has been cited for health and safety violations a number of times over the years, including ‘immediate jeopardy’ citations. Immediate jeopardy violations include those that put residents in harm’s way and can lead to injury and death if not corrected. In 2016 alone, Shepherd Hills was cited numerous times for medication errors, putting one patient in the hospital for a morphine overdose.
According to Nursing Home Compare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ nursing home quality assessment tool, Shepherd Hills’ overall rating is 1 out of 5 stars, or ‘much below average.’ They also found nursing staff spends an average of 1 hour and 25 minutes per resident a day, below both the Georgia average of 1 hour and 29 minutes and the national average of 1 hour and 32 minutes.
Ms. Zeni’s case is a harsh reminder of the priorities of many for-profit nursing home operators. By keeping staffing low, allowing infected employees to continue working, and keeping outbreaks of any kind under wraps, nursing homes are able to still operate, attract new residents, keep their facilities full, and keep the paychecks from Medicaid coming in. Sending infected employees home and notifying the proper parties (health departments and families of loved ones) could negatively impact a nursing home’s financial bottom line. Time and time again, we have sign nursing homes take the risk of doing nothing.
Levin & Perconti: Attorneys for Victims of Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect
In our nearly 3 decades litigating nursing home abuse and neglect cases, the attorneys of Levin & Perconti have successfully settled and tried an overwhelming number of cases involving nursing homes who assume families will not come after them for injuries and death of their loved ones. We consistently uncover histories of violations and offenses, including improper staffing ratios that lead to medication errors, falls, suffocations, wandering, elopement, pressure sores and many other unnecessary injuries.
Your loved ones should not have to suffer. If you believe someone you love has been the victim of mistreatment in a nursing home and has suffered injuries or even death, please call us now at (312) 332-2872 or visit us online for a free consultation. We do not get paid unless we recover money for you.