On a frozen November morning, a visitor looked outside through a second-floor window and saw a woman’s body lying on the facility’s back patio. The outside temperature was 14°F with a wind-chill temperature of 0°F. The visitor called 911 and informed a staff member.
The staff member went outside to the patio, which is accessible from the facility’s lobby area. (The lobby’s door to the patio is locked on the outside during the overnight hours.) The woman was lying on the ground without an overcoat, her lips were purple, and her bloodstained sweatpants were below her buttocks. The staff member recognized the woman as a resident of the facility. When he called out the resident’s name, she moved her head but could not open her eyes.
Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and observed that the woman was cold to touch, breathing slowly, and moaning. Paramedics transferred her to Regions Hospital. She was in cardiac arrest suffering from severe hypothermia and respiratory failure. Despite resuscitative attempts, the woman died as a result of exposure and hypothermia.
The resident had been missing since 10:00 p.m. the night before (nearly 11 hours before she was found lying on the ground on the back patio). At 10:00 p.m., the outside temperature was 11°F with a wind-chill temperature of 1°F. Cerenity’s weekend overnight staff disregarded the fact that she had been missing throughout the night. During the overnight hours between 11:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., the wind-chill temperature reached -6°F.
There is no excuse for the Cerenity care staff’s disregard for their missing resident and her safety. They abandoned their responsibilities to recognize and respond to the resident’s absence, resulting in her premature and wrongful death.
Death by Hypothermia
Hypothermia is defined as a core temperature below 95°F. Generally, there are three stages of hypothermia: Mild (core temperature 90 to 95°F); Moderate (core temperature 82 to 90°F); and Severe (core temperature below 82°F). Experts regard a core temperature of 75 degrees or lower as profound hypothermia.
Body temperature reflects the balance between heat production and heat loss. As the body reacts to a cold stress, the brain’s hypothalamus attempts to stimulate heat production. The body begins to shiver initially producing heat and increasing metabolism, ventilation, and cardiac output and increases thyroid, catecholamine, and adrenal activities. Vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) minimizes heat loss by reducing blood flow to the body’s extremities. As the body cools, it decreases tissue metabolism causing inhibited neural activity. Neurologic function begins to decline even at a core body temperature above of 95°F resulting in confusion and disorientation.
One feature of advanced hypothermia is paradoxical undressing – the hypothermic individual removes his or her clothing. The cause of paradoxical undressing may be due to vasodilatation (the widening of blood vessels) when the body can no longer constrict its vessels anymore. Blood rushes back into the body’s extremities resulting in a “hot flash” or burning sensation. Coupled with an individual’s decreased neurologic function, the individual disrobes. The state in which the resident was found (i.e., with her pants below her buttocks and no shoes) indicates that she experienced paradoxical undressing, an advanced hypothermic characteristic. (Medical examination and sexual assault tests ruled out any suspicious findings that would indicate that she had been physically or sexually assaulted.)
On November 24, only three days after Cerenity admitted her to its facility, the resident was found on Cerenity’s back patio having suffered severe hypothermia. The care staff failed to account for her for at least eleven hours, during which outside temperatures were well below freezing with a wind-chill as low as -6°F. When she was taken to the hospital, her core body temperature was still so cold that it would not register even a minimum temperature of 68°F.
The Family’s Loss
The resident was a military veteran and had worked in the Pentagon. She is survived by her daughter and son, both of whom had strong relationships with their mother. They were looking forward to spending the holidays with their mother, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. They were looking forward to celebrating her birthday with their mother in two weeks. There were plans for them to travel together to Northern Minnesota in the spring visit friends.
This is a serious case of abandonment and complete disregard. The children are concerned about what happened to their mother at Cerenity. They came to the Kosieradzki Smith Law Firm because they were looking for answers about what really happened, as well as how and why this tragedy could occur. They were seeking to hold Cerenity’s management accountable to protect others from unacceptable and dangerous care. It has been privilege for our firm to help this family successfully fight against neglect and to honor the dignity that their mother deserved.
The Kosieradzki • Smith Law Firm represents clients in cases involving catastrophic injury caused by nursing homes and assisted living facilities that fail to provide proper care, including the failure to protect residents from elopement and hypothermia. If you believe your loved one has been harmed due neglect or abuse in a nursing home or assisted living facility, take action and contact the Kosieradzki • Smith Law Firm online or call us toll-free at (877) 552-2873 to set up a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.