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Estate Sues Nursing Home

Nov 14, 2002 | Kinston Free Press

The estate of a Lenoir County woman has filed suit against a Kinston nursing home, alleging that negligence by the home and its staff led to the woman's death two years ago.

In a six-page complaint filed earlier this month, Elaine Wiggins, the administrator of the estate of Hettie Bell Wiggins, her mother, alleges Britthaven of Kinston failed to provide adequate and appropriate care to the woman.

The lawsuit also claims the nursing home failed to notify Hettie Bell Wiggins' physician and guardian about changes in her condition, and failed to properly assess and respond to those changes.

The plaintiff seeks both compensatory and punitive damages of more than $10,000, and asks for a jury trial.

"It's a wrongful death that we allege resulted from nursing negligence," said Kinston attorney Charles R. Hardee, the plaintiff's attorney.

Randy Uzzell, president of Lenoir County-based Britthaven, which operates Britthaven of Kinston and 42 other nursing homes in North Carolina, had not been served with the complaint Wednesday and had no comment.

The lawsuit alleges that sometime before Nov. 7, 2000, Hettie Bell Wiggins had "significant life-threatening changes" in her health, including dehydration and impaction.

Her daughter visited the home Nov. 7, 2000, and found Hettie Bell Wiggins "dying" and "unable to respond," the complaint alleges.

The woman was hospitalized and, on Nov. 16, 2000, died, according to court papers. She was 74.

Hettie Bell Wiggins' death was caused by pneumonia, hypernatremia, which is an excessive amount of sodium in the blood, and Alzheimer's dementia, the lawsuit states.

In the complaint, the woman's estate alleges that Britthaven failed to carry out Hettie Bell Wiggins' "care plan," which is an agreed-upon course of treatment that involves medical care, therapy, dietary restrictions, and physician and family involvement.

It also alleges Britthaven and its staff failed to comply with federal and state statutes and rules governing nursing home care, failed to exercise normal skill and care used by other health care providers, and failed to exercise reasonable care and diligence.

The nursing home failed to furnish the woman with nursing and medical services in accordance with standards of practice in the industry, and failed to provide sufficient nursing staff capable of providing adequate care, court papers allege.

Finally, the lawsuit claims Britthaven did not notify Hettie Bell Wiggins' doctor and her legal guardian about changes in her condition, did not properly train and supervise its nursing staff to ensure that residents who have such changes receive proper care, and did not properly assess and respond to the changes in her condition.

"The aforesaid acts and omissions of the agents, servants, and employees of defendant, while acting within the course and scope of their employment or agency with defendant, were done willfully and wantonly in conscious disregard for the rights and safety of Hettie Bell Wiggins," the document states.

"As a proximate result of defendant's negligence and willful and wanton conduct, Hettie Bell Wiggins sustained personal injuries, suffered extensive mental and physical pain and discomfort, underwent medical procedures, incurred medical expenses, and died."

The lawsuit goes on to claim that because of "negligence and willful and wanton conduct" by Britthaven and its employees, Hettie Bell Wiggins' estate is entitled to damages for her hospital, medical and ambulance expenses, compensation for her pain and suffering, "reasonable" funeral expenses, and punitive damages.

Uzzell said that even if he'd been served with a copy of the plaintiff's lawsuit, he likely would not be able to comment on its claims because of patient confidentiality laws.

But he defended the staff at the 192-bed Britthaven of Kinston, which is now undergoing renovations.

"We certainly believe we have a superior health care team at Britthaven of Kinston," he said. "We believe they do an excellent job. We're proud of all of our employees."

Britthaven has its own in-house counsel, but may retain representation for the Wiggins lawsuit, Uzzell said. He estimated the company, which also operates nursing homes in Virginia and Kentucky, has between 12 and 14 lawsuits against it now pending from the past seven years.


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