A wheelchair accident and a daughter’s torment
Three years have passed, but Judith Kaufman still can’t get beyond what befell her 97-year-old mother at a Dunwoody assisted living facility’s weekly church outing.
Sallie Kaufman, a widow who came of age during the Great Depression, had a stroke in 2010 that required her to use a wheelchair.
After her daughter moved Kaufman into assisted living at Summer’s Landing Tilly Mill in 2011, the facility’s Sunday outings to nearby St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church became a highlight for her.
“That was the biggest thing in her life: her church and her pastor,” Judith Kaufman said.
» READ: Suffering behind the facade
On Feb. 14, 2016, the facility’s activities director transported Kaufman and four other residents to church in a van provided by the home. After the service, as the staff member loaded other residents into the van, an untrained church volunteer positioned Kaufman and her wheelchair in the driveway.
» LISTEN BELOW: Carrie Teegardin discusses the "Unprotected" series on GPB's "On Second Thought"
He failed to secure the chair brakes, and it rolled down a slope across the driveway, hit a curb and dumped Kaufman to the ground. She suffered scrapes on her face and a broken right leg. Surgery to repair the severe fracture was too risky at her age.
“The whole thing was disastrous,” said Judith Kaufman. “She was devastated. She was in pain. They were giving her morphine. At the time, I didn’t know if she would survive.”
After nearly two weeks in the hospital, doctors released Kaufman with a brace that covered her leg from ankle to waist. She lived in extreme discomfort for months. Her mobility was so restricted because of the leg brace that Kaufman could no longer attend her church. She died in October 2016.
The state Department of Community Health cited the facility for failing to provide adequate care. Judith Kaufman filed a lawsuit accusing the facility and others of negligence.
“When you put a person in one of these homes, they basically tell you they are going to take care of them and make them safe, be right by them,” Kaufman said. “That’s the ultimate contractual agreement: They are going to take care of her and be safe, and have enough people to make sure she is safe.”
Summer’s Landing officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Family: Man left outside for hours on a 100-degree day
For a man of 97, Larry McDonough was remarkable. Though he had significant memory issues, he took no medications and got out often with family.
When St. Patrick’s Day arrived this year, the proud Irishman and World War II veteran made the trip to his hometown of Savannah and stood along the parade route with relatives, decked out in green attire and a shamrock necklace. On Memorial Day, McDonough and his son Joe took a boat over to Jekyll Island. They went for a swim and then came back home for a patriotic event on St. Simons Island.
It was a great day for father and son, but it turned out to be the last one like it.
The day after Memorial Day, McDonough was back at Thrive at Frederica, an upscale assisted living facility on St. Simons where the family said his care in a secure memory unit cost more than $7,000 a month. But when a family caregiver arrived that day, she couldn’t find him.
» READ PART 1: A beloved father, a night of betrayal
» SEARCH TOOL: Find records and inspection reports for Georgia facilities
No one at the facility had realized he was missing, the family said. Eventually, the family caregiver found him outside on a sun deck, where he had been for several hours.
It was about 100 degrees that day. McDonough found the facility cold and was wearing his usual attire: long johns and a thermal T-shirt under long pants and long-sleeved shirt with wool socks and shoes, according to his family.
When he was found just before 5 p.m., he was unresponsive, and the caregiver thought he was dead, said Larry’s daughter, Anne McDonough Adams. The caregiver could not get him to say anything. He was hot, sunburned and had fallen over onto his legs. He was foaming at the mouth, said Adams, who is a registered nurse. “His whole physical and mental well-being changed abruptly,” she said.
The ER doctors diagnosed heat exhaustion but didn’t detect any serious problems and sent him home. But four days later, Larry McDonough was dead.
It’s not clear that his death was related to being left outside. His cause of death was cardiac arrest. But his family said he was never the same after what happened.
» CONSUMER GUIDE: What to know about elder care facilities
Thrive declined to comment on the case, saying any information about an individual’s health history is confidential.
“The well-being of our residents — and providing them with outstanding care — are our top priorities,” the facility said in a statement to the AJC. “Thrive at Frederica has a history of providing exceptional care and a safe, comfortable environment for our elders.”
But Adams said she believes the incident and her father’s death are related.
“I do think Dad’s death was hastened because of the elder neglect and abuse at the hands of Thrive,” she said. Adams said she filed a complaint with the state over the incident.
“It just breaks my heart that he had to go like that,” she said.
Local in-depth journalism is essential to keep our community informed and hold public officials accountable. Please start or renew your subscription so we can continue to uncover what’s really going on in our community.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.