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Lawsuit Faults Nursing Home For Death

Nov 11, 2003 | Henderson Gleaner

An Evansville woman has filed a lawsuit against an Evansville nursing home, claiming the facility is responsible for her grandmother's death.

On Monday, Angie Mynatt-Gainey filed a civil wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against Extendicare Inc., the corporation that owns more than 260 long-term care nursing centers in the United States and Canada.

Mary Mynatt, partially paralyzed and mute from strokes suffered in 1988, died Jan. 7, 2002, at Deaconess Hospital, two days after being taken from the Westpark nursing home in Evansville. The civil lawsuit was filed in Vanderburgh Superior Court, seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages.

"To this day, no one has been held accountable for her death, and that's what I'm looking for," Mynatt-Gainey said. "I won't give up until it's done."

Extendicare spokeswoman Holly Gould said a review of Westpark records and medical evidence indicate Mynatt "received appropriate care throughout her stay at our facility.

"It is unfortunate that the family is unable to accept that we were not responsible for Mrs. Mynatt's death," Gould said in a prepared statement.

"We are confident that the courts will once again support the facts that prove that her death was a result of natural and normal causes."

The complaint alleges Extendicare breached its duty to Mynatt by failing to provide adequate supervision to ensure she received sufficient fluids and failing to ensure Westpark was adequately staffed and adequately trained.

The elderly woman suffered from dementia and diabetes and was totally dependent on others. The Vanderburgh County coroner ruled her death a homicide, and two Westpark nurses were charged with felony neglect of a dependent. At their trial, however, Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl A. Heldt refused to let the case progress to a jury, instead ordering acquittals because he said the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence.

Mynatt-Gainey said Westpark officials have never explained how her grandmother's hip was broken in November 2001. She said Mynatt's condition was not charted by the nursing staff from late December 2001 until Jan. 6, 2002, the day before she died. In both situations, Mynatt-Gainey ask that her grandmother be transferred to a hospital.

Dr. John Heidingsfelder, the pathologist who performed Mynatt's autopsy, testified Mynatt died of natural causes, "being a urinary tract infection, and pneumonia." Heidingsfelder also testified he found nothing in the autopsy to warrant prosecution. The family believes she died of dehydration.

Westpark received a $3,000 fine by the Indiana State Department of Health for violations surrounding Mynatt's care.

Paul Severance, executive director of United Senior Action of Indiana, a senior citizens advocacy group, said Indiana's regulatory system does not treat elder neglect seriously.

Severance called a $3,000 fine "a slap on the wrist." He said nursing facilities make $40,000 to $50,000 a year per patient, so it is cheaper to pay fines.

"When people are neglected to this extent and our system doesn't take it seriously, then legal action is the only way that we have to change this system," he said. "It will never change when you issue a $3,000 fine."

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