The halls of the former Pawtuxet Village Care and Rehab center are vacant, but the dust from the firestorm following the media blitz surrounding its closure has not entirely settled.
Deborah Norman and her sister Betty Marquis are now looking into the possibility of filing a class action lawsuit against Pawtuxet Village Care and Rehab and its parent company, Sun Healthcare.
Deborah and Betty’s father, Thomas Norman, was a resident at Pawtuxet Village for just over a year before a medication overdose left him in a coma and left Deborah and Betty seeking justice.
Norman was a resident at West Shore Health Center recovering from a stroke and broken hip in 2010. But in November of 2010, those at West Shore informed Betty and Deborah that their father would be transferred to Pawtuxet Village.
Initially, the sisters thought Pawtuxet Village was a nice facility, but they said within a few months issues began to pop up that quickly led them to change their opinion. Over the course of months, said the sisters, small issues grew into more serious problems. Dirty diapers would go unchanged; slippery, fall-inducing sheets would be used on their father’s wheelchair; Thomas Norman’s buttocks was raw from not being changed; and calls to the nurse’s station would go unanswered. But it wasn’t until January of 2012 that all of the problems came to an abrupt head.
Deborah had just dropped her mother off to visit with her father, when she received a frantic call from her mother saying Norman had slipped and fallen out of his chair. He was rushed to the hospital, and in transit they discovered his temperature was 90 degrees, well below the average 98.6.
“That’s hypothermic,” said Deborah. “That’s almost dead.”
Deborah and Betty wondered how long their father’s body temperature had been dropping, and how none of the nurses had noticed, especially since they had requested his temperature be closely monitored.
Norman was suffering from a urinary tract infection, a problem that causes temperature fluctuation and can be deadly for seniors. But a few weeks prior to his incident, a routine temperature check could not be completed when four thermometers failed to work.
Deborah and Betty said the small problems were telltale signs of bigger problems to come.
Two weeks prior to his fall, Deborah and Betty said they visited their father to find him heavily medicated.
“He was like a zombie,” said Deborah. “He was slurring his words, incoherent and wiped out.”
Pawtuxet Village had a history of non-compliance with state and federal standards since 2007, which included issues with medication administration.
Betty explained that her father was having issues with his dementia, and as a result, those at Pawtuxet Village put him on numerous anti-psychotic medications. They also began giving him painkillers like Vicodin.
“He was on three pages of medication,” said Deborah.
Despite their protests, the sisters said those at Pawtuxet Village increased medication dosages and continued to experiment with types of medication for their father. When they got Norman’s medical records upon his removal from Pawtuxet Village, Deborah and Betty discovered that many of the medications they ordered cessation of were still being administered.
On the night of his fall, hospital officials told Deborah and Betty that their father was suffering from a drug overdose. He was unconscious as they tried to raise his temperature from the hypothermic 90-degrees.
“For 12 days, he did not wake up,” said Deborah.
The doctors told the sisters their father’s survival was unlikely, and he was transferred to a hospice center. But on the 12th day of his coma, Norman opened his eyes and began to make a recovery. He was transferred to Kent Regency, where he now resides.
During his time in hospice, Betty was busy paying to keep Norman’s room at Pawtuxet Village to the tune of $800 a day. It wasn’t until after she paid that Betty found out the center was ordered to cease and desist from accepting new patients.
Meanwhile, Deborah drafted an online petition, which has since gained 357 signatures. Deborah sent the petition to the Department of Health and the State House, which Deborah said caused the Department of Health to conduct a full evaluation of Pawtuxet Care and Rehab.
But Deborah and Betty still don’t feel vindicated.
Because the Pawtuxet Village Care and Rehab closed voluntarily, the facility did not lose its license, a privilege Deborah would like to see revoked.
Now Betty and Deborah would like to see if other people who have had similar negative experiences with Pawtuxet Village would like to join them in a class action suit. A spokesperson for Pawtuxet Village said they were unable to comment on the potential suit at this time.
Though the sisters have spoken with several lawyers, they have not locked in an attorney. Though Betty and Deborah said they’re not looking for money, they did say hiring a lawyer would require them to ask for monetary damages.
But Betty and Deborah said what they want most is change. They’d like to see the license for the facility revoked, and also hope legislation can be drafted to make the Department of Health a more proactive part of the senior care industry.
“If they were in there every three or so months and they were still having problems, something is wrong with the system,” said Betty, who noted that the previous non-compliance issues meant the center was being even more closely watched.
“I think the Department of Health is accountable to us,” said Deborah.
Betty and Deborah said they wish they knew more about the senior care system before their father’s stroke in 2010. They said the problem is often a lack of compassion for the patients and residents.
“They’re more concerned about making money than taking care of the people,” said Betty.
Though the sisters said money is not an object, they did say they have racked up roughly $700,000 in medical expenses between Medicare and Blue Cross.
To contact Deborah Norman or Betty Marquis to join in the class action suit, or to sign the online petition, visit http://signon.org/sign/pawtuxet-village-nursing.fb1?source=s.fb.ty&r_by=2352055.