Patients said they screamed for help at a rehab facility. Poor care cost one her foot, lawsuit says

A woman who says she lost her foot because of poor care at a Lakewood rehab facility has sued the company, alleging she and other residents suffered abuse and neglect.

The lawsuit cites a state investigation in which residents described long waits and needing to scream to get assistance, such as with going to the bathroom.

According to her lawsuit, Catherine Monty lived temporarily at The Oaks at Lakewood after she fractured her ankle when she fell while grocery shopping Jan. 8.

“I was heading to the back to get a thing of milk and my leg gave out,” the 63-year-old told The News Tribune. “It was awful.”

A couple days later, after surgery, she went to the facility at 11411 Bridgeport Way SW for physical therapy and rehabilitation.

In the weeks that followed, “reasonably prudent medical care was not provided, allowing infection to develop,” states Monty’s lawsuit, filed Oct. 12 in Pierce County Superior Court.

“These failures were due to understaffing, failure to supervise, failure to adequately train staff upon information and belief, and inadequate corporate policies and procedures.”

Attempts by The News Tribune to reach the company and its corporate owner, Five Oaks Healthcare, for comment by phone and email were not successful.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, gives this account:

Monty’s doctor gave orders while she was staying at the facility for staff to keep her healing ankle clean, to keep weight off it and to look for infection and excessive bleeding.

A friend, who happened to be a nurse, noticed something was wrong when she visited Monty at the facility 10 days after she checked in. There was a bad odor in Monty’s room, and the friend told staff to get her scissors and she cut through Monty’s bandages.

What they found led to Monty being taken to the hospital, where medical notes indicate she had “bone jutting from the wound,” and screws protruding from it.

Monty developed “a severe blood infection, extensive necrosis of the ankle wound” and a bone infection, according to the suit.

“It was too late,” Monty said.

Ultimately, her foot was amputated below the knee a couple weeks later because of the infection.

An investigation by the state Department of Social and Health Services found that staff members at the Oaks facility hadn’t done skin checks as often as they were supposed to, and had not properly followed the doctor’s orders about Monty’s treatment and recovery.

The investigation also found that the facility failed to make sure 11 of 65 sample residents “experienced dignified existence, were treated with respect and received timely assistance with care,” the DSHS report states.

The facility also failed to properly investigate and report allegations of abuse and neglect for six of 20 sample residents, the agency found.

Monty told state investigators she rang the bell for help one day but no one came to help for close to 90 minutes. She was soiled in feces during that time.

“Resident was teary eyed describing this experience and recalled having to scream for help,” investigators wrote. “A staff member finally entered the room and after seeing the soiled bed started cursing. Resident said, ‘I will never forget that for the rest of my life.’”

The next day she suffered diarrhea, waited at least two hours and finally screamed for help again, Monty said.

Staff members told her the call light system was down.

Another resident told investigators he’d had trouble getting basic hygiene supplies, such as a wash cloth and shaving gear.

He said he asked staff members to help him out of bed, which he’d been able to do at the hospital, but they said they didn’t know how. He also described long waits after asking for help, and called the situation “inhumane.”

One woman said that twice, while waiting for help, she was forced to urinate herself when she couldn’t hold her bladder any longer.

“I just started crying,” she told investigators.

She said there was no point in using the call light.

“They just don’t come,” she said.

Another woman who soiled herself after a long wait for help said it made her feel despondent. She waited in a soiled brief for an hour before getting help, she said.

The report states that part of the facility’s plan to fix the alleged problems involved educating staff members, and making sure they know call lights are to stay on until a resident’s needs are met.

It also noted that the facility was actively recruiting.

An April 27 letter from DSHS approved the facility’s request for a one-year exception to a regulation that requires a registered nurse to be on duty 24 hours.

“As a reminder,” the letter states, “the availability, assessment ability, and care actually being provided by your facility must meet the needs of your residents.”

Meanwhile, after her amputation, Monty has been doing physical therapy and slowly regaining her mobility.

She now pays for in-home care, can get around with a walker and hopes to walk with a cane by the end of the year.

“And then sometime early next year, hopefully we can ditch the cane,” she said.

Monty said she wants other nursing home residents to realize they can call the state if something’s not right.

“They will take care of it,” she said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell