Criminal Charges Result from Bronx Nursing Home Death

CBS News brings us this disturbing story from a Bronx County nursing home:

An aide at a Bronx nursing home is facing charges in connection with the death of a 77-year-old patient.

According to law enforcement sources, the fight that broke out between the aide and the victim was so intense that witnesses told police they had to pull the two apart, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.

Police said during the altercation Frank Mercado fell onto a broken table in the room, and a piece of metal impaled him. He was rushed to Montefiore Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries hours later.

The aide, Cherrylee Young, had been employed by the facility for 14 years. She has been arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide, felony assault, and endangering the welfare of an adult. Last month, Young pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Yes, actual, violent death is perhaps an extreme example of nursing home danger. But as the New York Times points out in an extensive piece on Mr. Mercado’s death, New York nursing homes in particular suffer from dangerously high rates of abuse and neglect. The trend is sadly toward less, not more oversight, and private companies have been on a buying spree, taking over not-for-profit care facilities and slashing staff and services to increase profits. If the trend continues, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more tragedies like the one that befell Mr. Mercado.

The nursing home in this case was just such a private, for-profit operator: University Nursing Home, owned and operated by the elder care giant Centers Health Care. University Nursing Home has declined to comment on the death beyond touting their so-called high government ratings, and claiming to be cooperating with the police investigation. The Times article highlights several other true horror stories of residents suffering severe injuries while in the “care” of University Nursing Home, and notes the high number of safety code violations, along with some truly disturbing statistics involving depression, weight loss, and psychotropic drug use of residents.

For those of us who practice in this area, it is difficult to understate the hellish conditions found at some elder care facilities in New York State. Typically, only when a “newsworthy” incident, such as a gruesome death, comes to the attention of the press do these facilities receive negative publicity. A similar case came to light this past September, after a group of home health care aides callously allowed an elderly man in their care to die after refusing treatment for broken bones resulting from a fall.

Documents unearthed by the Times have highlighted one of the major contributing causes to this epidemic of elder abuse: the profit motive. Simply stated, if costs can be slashed to the bare minimum, and if Medicare and Medicaid continue to pay their bills every month, running a nursing home can be quite a lucrative venture for a private health care provider. That makes it even more necessary to hit these negligent or outright abusive (or, yes, homicidal) nursing homes with the maximum possible extent of civil liability – to ensure they feel it where it counts when one of their residents suffers unnecessarily.

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