Tucker nursing home that dropped patient ordered to pay $1.8 million

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

A DeKalb County jury awarded $1.8 million this week to the family of a frail nursing home patient who suffered a brain injury after an aide rolled her off her bed, causing her to fall to the floor and hit her head.

Christine Mitchell, who was already in poor health, died a month after the 2015 fall at Grace Healthcare of Tucker.

The jury did not find the nursing home responsible for Mitchell’s death, but it did find the skilled nursing facility liable for Mitchell’s pain and suffering in her final days.

“Hopefully this verdict is part of a process that says enough is enough — don’t do this to our loved ones, they deserve more,” said Evan W. Jones, one of the attorneys representing the family.

Grace Healthcare of Tucker is a 136-bed for-profit facility. It is part of a Tennessee-based chain that operates more than 30 homes in multiple states.

Howard “Trey” Reese III, an attorney who represented the facility, said the facility admitted liability but felt the amount of the verdict was out of line with the evidence. He said they were considering options for an appeal.

The home currently has a 1-star rating — the lowest — on the federal government's "Nursing Home Compare" website. The federal website rates the facility as "much below average" on the three key categories of health inspections, staffing and quality measures.

Mitchell was 70 when she died in 2015, 31 days after the fall and the injury.

The facility’s policy was to have two aides help when changing bed linens when the resident was in the bed because it is a restraint-free facility that doesn’t use bed rails. But only one aide was handling Mitchell’s change. The lawsuit said the aide used too much force when rolling Mitchell, which pushed her off the bed instead of simply rolling her to her side.

Michael Prieto, another attorney representing the family, said Mitchell had raised her two sons as a single mom, working on a military base and as a beautician. After she suffered a serious stroke in 2011, one of Mitchell’s sons insisted that she live with him and his family. The son took care of his mother, and helped her learn to walk, talk and function again, Prieto said.

But another stroke in 2012 worsened her condition. “Her needs exceeded the scope of what he could do at home,” Prieto said.

Mitchell moved into the Tucker facility in 2012, where her two sons visited almost every day and stayed for hours, Prieto said. One son continued to do his mother’s laundry, bringing it back washed, ironed and sprayed with perfume.

“This is one of the most dedicated families we have ever represented,” Prieto said.

The jury agreed with the Reese’s argument that Mitchell died due to a myriad of health issues, not specifically from the head injury. But the plaintiff’s attorneys said the jurors decided that it was a serious failure to drop an elderly person on her head, leaving her in pain in her final days.

“Everyone has a right to live and to die with dignity,” Prieto said.


How good are Georgia nursing homes?

Nursing homes are rating on a five-star system by the federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid. In late April, a revised rating system was implemented that puts more emphasis on staffing and quality components and provides more up-to-date information on health inspections. That change caused more than third of all skilled nursing facilities in the U.S. to see a drop in their overall star ratings, while about 15% got higher marks under the new system, according to independent analyses. Now, 107 nursing homes in Georgia have the lowest overall rating of 1 star, while 38 homes got the top five-star rating. Information on all 360 Georgia nursing homes can be found at Medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare. If you have a story to share about your experience at a Georgia long-term care facility, contact reporter Carrie Teegardin at cteegardin@ajc.com.

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