The state health department is investigating allegations that Lena Gaskins, an 87-year-old Baltimore woman who was blind, diabetic and hypertensive, was abused in the last few weeks of her life in a Bolton Hill area nursing home.
"The woman did have injuries and was taken to a hospital where she was examined," Carol Benner, acting director of the division of licensing and certification of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which regulates nursing homes, said yesterday.
"The nursing home took the appropriate action and terminated the nursing assistant who was involved. A surveyor was at the nursing home today. We're in the process of an investigation."
The home in question is the Golden Touch Care Center, a 250-bed nursing home at Lafayette Avenue and John Street.
Gaskins died July 3 at Maryland General Hospital. Doctors said her death was due to a cardiac arrest.
Three cousins of the woman -- who never married, had no children and had only one brother, who died before her -- believe Gaskins' death is somehow linked to physical and psychological mistreatment she allegedly received at Golden Touch Care Center. Gaskins had lived there since April, about a year after she lost her sight.
The cousins -- Amanda Powell, Carolyn Hill and Cynthia Bailey -- have lodged complaints against the nursing home and also asked the health department to investigate. The abuse occurred last month, the complainants alleged.
Gary Sudhalter, administrator at the nursing home for the past two months, declined to comment on the case. Sudhalter referred all inquiries to the health department.
Gaskins' cousins said they learned she had been beaten when they saw a June 13 story on WMAR-TV by reporter Carolyn Presutti. The television report said a nursing assistant struck Gaskins in the face repeatedly when she refused to take medication.
Presutti had been tipped by a person identified only as "someone who cares," said Hill. The reporter went to Golden Touch posing as a flower-carrying visitor and taped a voice interview with Gaskins.
On June 15, Powell, Hill and Bailey visited the home, where, Hill said, Gaskins told them the nursing assistant had slapped and hit her face, tried to shove the corners of a pillow into her mouth and bent back her crippled fingers.
Gaskins told them the incident occurred when she resisted taking medications because "she already had had her medicine," Hill said.
The cousins then began a series of four visits to the nursing home. The last time they saw Gaskins alive was June 28.
"Even though she was blind, she was a strong woman," said Hill. "She was very vocal and she spoke her mind. She kept us laughing all the time when we visited her. And, she had a clear mind, even though she was 87 years old."
What bothered the cousins most, said Hill, was that the call button which Gaskins could press to signal nurses when she needed help "was usually across the room, on a chair or a table, even though this woman was blind."
Hill said that when she asked the nursing home to explain what happened before Gaskins' death, she was told by a nurse that Gaskins "had been fighting all day and all night long until 2:30 a.m. July 3."