A Michigan woman is suing a nursing home for willfully neglecting her developmentally disabled aunt. The niece alleges the facility staff was ill-prepared to care for the 71-year-old and allowed her to “starve to death.”
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Albert Dib on behalf of Charlene Jones, Bertha Jones’ niece and guardian, against the Hoeft House in Belleville, Michigan.
Also named in the filing are eight of Hoeft House’s former employees accused of neglecting the woman, causing her to die on May 2, 2022. The niece is hoping to receive $25 million in damages.
The complaint, filed on Tuesday, March 14, states the senior citizen died as a result of complications related to circulatory failure, severe dehydration and protein-calorie malnutrition, among other conditions, The Washington Post reports.
Dib says Hoeft House and Community Spirit Homes and Community Living Services (the organization that operates the facility) broke the “sacred trust” of caregiving.
The lawyer says he has handled several cases against group homes. He noted Hoeft House was not registered with the state, a certification not required because the residents all had their names listed on the building’s lease in 2010.
According to Click on Detroit, when the group appeared as a tenant-landlord set-up and dropped its license, the move protected them from regulation and oversight lawsuits.
“I’ve handled many group home cases. They almost always are a) understaffed and b) underqualified,” Dib said, before talking about the very specific needs Bertha Jones required.
Since her birth in 1951, Bertha Jones has needed special care every hour of the day, her family says. According to the lawsuit, the woman was born with a spinal deformity, was born blind and deaf, and unable to communicate for herself. She was also confined to a wheelchair and possessed intellectual disabilities.
“She was easy to neglect. The way I see it, she couldn’t communicate with anyone, so they just put her in a corner and forgot about her. If she didn’t eat, they didn’t worry about it,” said Dib.
The lawsuit alleges, despite her being a resident since 1983, at some point that care was denied.
“This lack of regard for human life that occurred inside the four walls of the Hoeft Road home was the cause of her rapid decline in health, her malnutrition, and other injuries suffered by Miss Jones that consequently led to her untimely and cruel and unusual death,” the complaint stated.
According to the niece, her aunt’s health started to deteriorate in February 2022. In addition to her body frame appearing to be emaciated, her cheeks were not as plump as they once were. When her weight was checked, she was a petite 126 pounds.
Jones said she noticed her aunt’s behavior started to change, and she did not hold hands with guests as she had done before.
She asked the attendants at the facility if they saw anything different in her aunt, and they would respond, “Oh, I don’t know, nothing’s wrong.”
Still, the niece was under the impression that something seemed wrong. She found her aunt started losing weight, despite the home’s administration maintaining that the woman was being fed three pureed meals a day according to guidelines.
In late March, Bertha Jones lost 23 pounds, according to the lawsuit, and on April 14, 2022, she was transported to the Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The elderly woman was brought to doctors early that Thursday because she was found lying in the facility unresponsive. The lawsuit claims that her weight loss was even more severe, having dropped down to 72 pounds.
Detroit News reports the hospital assessed the senior to be in metabolic crisis, characterized by low blood sugar. Doctors also found an excess of toxic substances in the blood along with circulatory failure, and noted the woman was dehydrated.
The claim stated “all consequences of the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment” she received at the home.
After nine days in the hospital, Aunt Bertha was transferred to hospice care, before she transitioned.
“I hate that she went the way that she did. Because she doesn’t deserve that,” Jones said.
After her aunt was placed in end-of-life care, Jones filed a complaint with the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network’s Office of Recipient Rights against the home.
The agency conducted an investigation and discovered the aunt should have been seen by a doctor well before April 14, classifying Bertha Jones’ case as a Neglect Class I. This classification affirms that her abuse was “a non-accidental act” by her care providers that could “cause, or contribute to, the death, or sexual abuse of, or serious physical harm to a recipient.”
Armed with the report, Charlene Jones and Dib are fighting to get justice for Bertha Jones.
“If they would have taken care of my aunt, if they would have fed my aunt, my aunt would be living today. No doubt about it,” Jones said.
Hoeft House, Community Spirit Homes and Community Living Services reportedly have not responded to the allegations.