Anyone who has a parent, or other elderly loved one, in a nursing home is aware that nursing home abuse and neglect is a serious concern in the United States. As the population of older Americans continues to swell, the spotlight on nursing home abuse grows as well. One of the biggest problems with identifying nursing home abuse is that the administration often fears the sanctions and reprisals that follow the admission of a violation, frequently causing them to close ranks and operate under a veil of silence. Consequently, workers are often scared to speak out when they observe abuse or neglect. Two separate lawsuits in Illinois illustrate all too well the problems healthcare workers face when they try to intervene when faced with abuse at a nursing home facility.
Jury Awards $5 Million to Nurse
Just recently, a central Illinois jury awarded $5.2 million to a nurse who claims she was fired from a nursing home after reporting alleged abuse. Katrina Wesemann worked as a licensed practical nurse at a Dwight facility in 2012 when she was fired. She alleges she was let go because she wouldn’t follow a director’s orders to increase dosages of anti-anxiety medication to agitated residents and refused to change or omit records of suspicious injuries. Her case was tried to a jury who awarded Wesemann past wages, benefits and $5 million in punitive damages.
Nursing Home Worker Blows the Whistle and Files a Lawsuit after Being Fired
In an unrelated case, another lawsuit was filed by a former Woodstock senior living center worker who has accused the business of firing her for trying to report abuse disclosed by a patient. Juana Walsh is suing Christian Living Communities and Hearthstone Communities for more than $75,000 in money damages and the reinstatement of her job.
Walsh was fired from her job at Hearthstone Communities in Woodstock a year ago. According to the lawsuit, Walsh entered a male resident’s room to take his vital signs Nov. 26, 2016. The man was shaking and appeared nervous, and when Walsh asked whether there was anything she could do for him, he said he was afraid of a male nursing assistant. The man went on to say he was “treated very badly” by a particular nursing assistant the previous day. At the beginning of the male employee’s shift, he told the resident to “keep quiet” and “not bother him,” according to the lawsuit. Later, when the resident used the call light to ask for a glass of water, the nursing assistant reprimanded him and said not to call him for anything else. As the nursing assistant was leaving, the man asked him to fix his pillow, and the employee was physically rough with the man’s head, the lawsuit states. The resident told Walsh he was scared of the employee and did “not feel safe at Hearthstone.”
Days later, after Walsh had reported the abuse to both her supervisor and the company’s human resources director, a social worker told her no one would be filing an official report. The social worker told Walsh that Birks had spoken with the man Nov. 28, 2016, and reported he was “confused,” the lawsuit states. Walsh then prepared a written statement of the man’s complaint and shared it with the resident’s brother upon request when he visited two days later. When the administration at the nursing home learned that a family member had seen the complaint, an official told Walsh what she did was wrong, and that she had put the entire place, and everybody’s job – including her own – at risk. She was further accused of stealing the man’s private information by sharing it with his brother and of stealing the pencil and paper used to write the report, even though Walsh said she wrote it at home. Walsh was fired on the spot and escorted off the property, according to the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Walsh has asked for the reinstatement of her job and the full fringe benefits and seniority rights it came with, as though she had never been fired.
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