March 28, 2005

Newspaper: Boston Globe
By: Alice Dembner, Globe Staff

March 28, 2005

A Suffolk County grand jury is investigating the death of a nursing home resident who suffered a brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs, according to the owners of Hunt Nursing & Retirement Home in Danvers.

The resident, Flora Viera, 88, suffered from dementia. Last June, she walked through a door that was supposed to be locked, fell down the steps, and was discovered by staff in a pool of blood, according to a Danvers police report. She was hospitalized with bleeding in the brain, and died three days later.

A state official, who was briefed on the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the grand jury was focusing on whether there was criminal negligence.

Viera’s daughter, Maureen Lapointe, appeared before the grand jury last month, according to her lawyer. The state attorney general’s office has also subpoenaed records from the nursing home and called members of its staff to testify, according to the facility’s corporate owners, Berkshire Healthcare Systems.

“The number one reason her mother was in the facility was for safety and protection,” said David Hoey, Lapointe’s lawyer. “It was a horrible thing.”

Viera, who suffered from memory problems and confusion, had a tendency to wander and was at risk of falling because of “poor safety awareness,” according to a report from the state Department of Public Health. She was supposed to get “continual supervision” while walking.

But on the night of June 27, she was able to get to the end of the corridor on the third floor and open the door without any of the four staff members on duty noticing, according to the police report. There were 30 other residents on the floor that Sunday night.

The state Department of Public Health cited Hunt for failing to adequately supervise Viera and failing to ensure the door was secure. Last summer, the department temporarily placed the facility in “jeopardy” and suspended admissions for a week while it reviewed the home’s safety precautions and staffing. The state imposed a $20,000 fine, which the home’s corporate owners have appealed.

“That door was absolutely alarmed and secured before the incident,” said William Jones, senior vice president of Berkshire Healthcare Systems. “We don’t know what happened. Our investigation did not indicate that anyone at Hunt did anything wrong . . . that contributed to the tragedy.”

Several Hunt employees were asked to appear before the grand jury, he said, and the facility is providing materials subpoenaed by the attorney general. “We have been cooperating fully,” Jones said. The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

State and police reports suggest the door was not working properly that night. According to the facility, an alarm was supposed to sound if the door was opened without the punching of certain numbers into a key pad. But when Danvers police tested the door, they found the alarm to be erratic.

Facility rules called for maintenance workers to check the doors daily, but no one checked them on weekends, even though a maintenance worker initialed a log stating that he did, according to the Department of Public Health’s report.

After the death, the lock on the door was replaced, Jones said.

Alice Dembner can be reached at Dembner@globe.com.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Abstract (Document Summary)

A Suffolk County grand jury is investigating the death of a nursing home resident who suffered a brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs, according to the owners of Hunt Nursing & Retirement Home in Danvers.

The resident, Flora Viera, 88, suffered from dementia. Last June, she walked through a door that was supposed to be locked, fell down the steps, and was discovered by staff in a pool of blood, according to a Danvers police report. She was hospitalized with bleeding in the brain, and died three days later.

The state Department of Public Health cited Hunt for failing to adequately supervise Viera and failing to ensure the door was secure. Last summer, the department temporarily placed the facility in “jeopardy” and suspended admissions for a week while it reviewed the home’s safety precautions and staffing. The state imposed a $20,000 fine, which the home’s corporate owners have appealed.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.