A state health department investigation determined yesterday that a nursing assistant's physical abuse of a blind, diabetic, 87-year-old Baltimore woman did not cause her death.
Lena Gaskins died July 3 at Maryland General Hospital more than a month after she was taken to a hospital and treated for facial bruises and a fractured finger that stemmed from the abuse.
A cousin of Ms. Gaskins' said the woman told her that the nursing assistant slapped her in the face several times, tried to shove the corners of a pillow into her mouth and bent back her fingers.
State investigators concluded that the abuse, which occurred June 8, was an isolated incident and that there was no evidence linking the woman's death to the attack, said Carol Benner, acting director of licensing and certification.
"She was an 87-year-old woman whose heart gave out," Ms. Benner said. "The nursing home began CPR, and the ambulance came and continued CPR and took her to the hospital, where she died." An autopsy report is pending.
Ms. Gaskins' relatives asked the health department to investigate the death to determine whether there was any connection with the abuse at the Golden Touch Care Center in the 100 block of West Lafayette Avenue, said Michael Golden, health department spokesman.
The department's survey of the nursing home found no history of abuse, and health officials are confident that the incident was isolated, Ms. Benner said.
"We do our surveys in a very quiet manner. While you change some behavior [during the investigation], you can't change all of your behavior," she said.
Ms. Benner said the nursing home took appropriate action by taking Ms. Gaskins to the hospital for treatment, reporting the incident to the health department and firing the nursing assistant responsible for the abuse. Ms. Benner would not identify the aide responsible.
Ms. Benner said the health department will take no further action against the nursing home and that any criminal charges against the nursing assistant would be filed by the police.
Gary Sudhalter, the nursing home's administrator, declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Ms. Gaskins' death, referring all questions to the health department.
Ms. Benner said the health department has been watching the Golden Touch Care Center closely for about a year because of deficiencies in its nursing and physician services that were revealed during routine inspections in August 1990 and February of this year.