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Nursing Home Target of Lawsuit

Aug 29, 2003 | A Metro Atlanta nursing home with a history of problems will soon be the target of a wrongful death lawsuit.

The family of 88-year-old Georgia Gilbreath claims the Sunbridge Nursing Home in Riverdale is responsible for a pattern of neglect.

As recently as May of this year, the state of Georgia issued fines against the home. State inspectors found problems such as unsanitary conditions and a patient who had wandered a mile from the facility without anyone noticing.

State inspectors, however, say the home’s problems have all been fixed, adding that the problems were never bad enough to warrant closing the home.

Gilbreath’s family, however, disagreed, and said she deserved better in her final days.

“She gave money to church when she didn't have money herself and for her to be treated like that, no sir,” said Gilbreath’s grandson, Kenneth Knox.

Even before Gilbreath moved into the nursing home, state inspectors were finding problems.

In the past year-and-a-half, the home had been cited for more than two dozen deficiencies. There was more than one case where a doctor's orders for patient care were ignored, a repeated problem with ants and an allegation of abuse that went unreported.

The state decided none of the problems were enough to close the home.

“Although it has a history of non-compliance on a repeated occasion, it has responded in a timely manner to fix them or they've been fined and then they fix them,” said David Dunbar of the Office of Regulatory Services.

One major investigation by the agency involved Gilbreath.

Family members complained the 88-year-old lost 13-pounds in a month, that she developed a rotton tooth that was never fixed and that more than once, they found her sitting in her own waste.

She also suffered from sores that family members believe resulted from ant bites.

In April of last year, after four months at the home, Gilbreath was found on the floor beside her bed. No one reported the fall to doctors until three days later when the family found out. Gilbreath was taken to the hospital where doctors found an infection near her hip. She died three weeks later.

"A year later, nothing happens, the place is still open, [it] is still accepting patients, the place is still making a profit,” said attorney Don Keenan who is representing the Gilbreath family.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined the case did not call for criminal charges.

State investigators cited the home for failing to report Gilbreath's fall, but decided it did not lead to her death.

“All of us at Sunbridge continue to be saddened by the loss of Ms. Gilbreath…Our employees are dedicated healthcare professionals and their main focus is providing quality care to every resident at Riverdale,” said a written statement from the regional manager for the nursing home.

The Gilbreath family, however, believes it's a case that should be pursued in civil court. They also plan to push the state to come down harder on homes with chronic problems.

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