Nursing home, state settle discharge death suit

$50,000 `ridiculous,' says patient's kin

January 19, 2000|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A Parkville nursing home has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle charges brought by the state Attorney General alleging that its workers failed to follow proper procedures in discharging a critically ill patient who died eight days later.

The settlement announced yesterday stems from the case of Elsie Wagner, who was a patient at the 147-bed Cromwell Center at 8710 Emge Road from Nov. 30, 1995, until her discharge on Oct. 9, 1998. Released from Cromwell with critically low levels of sodium, Wagner died Oct. 16.

Gloria Cruz, Wagner's granddaughter, who testified before a congressional committee last year about the case, called the settlement "ridiculous."

"The nursing home is responsible for its employees," said Cruz. "For them to pay $50,000 is like me handing someone a dollar. How could they [the attorney general's office] do this?"

The nursing home, part of the Pennsylvania-based Genesis ElderCare chain, will pay the $50,000 fee in return for the state's agreement to drop any further civil or criminal action related to the patient's discharge.

The agreement will not affect the criminal charges against two former Cromwell employees, who were indicted last year on charges of reckless endangerment and neglect. The criminal cases are pending and are expected to go to trial in Towson in the spring.

In a statement, the nursing home's parent company denied that "any action of its employees" violated state law.

Carolyn McElroy, the assistant attorney general in charge of the case, said the settlement was "fair and appropriate."

McElroy said the case was the first to be brought by the state under a five-year-old law passed by the General Assembly after a patient was improperly released from a nursing home in the southern part of the state. She said the maximum fine for each violation under the statute is $10,000.

In a statement issued with the settlement agreement, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said: "It is extremely important for people to know that someone is looking out for their loved ones."

Wagner's release from Cromwell came after her family had arranged to move her to Delaware where she would be closer to relatives, including Cruz.

According to the seven-page settlement agreement, the state charged that the nursing home failed to follow the discharge procedures required under state law, including recording critical test results and passing those test results on to the facility where the patient was being transferred.

The information not transmitted to the family or the Delaware facility included "panic level" blood test results which showed Wagner's sodium levels were critically low. Other information not sent out to the family included the fact that Wagner was experiencing significant chest congestion and that the patient had recently fractured her arm, "leaving her with persistent pain."

In a company statement, Genesis spokeswoman Lisa Salaman said, "The center chose to settle unfounded claims brought by the Attorney General's office, without admitting any such violation, to eliminate the diversion of time and resources from providing care and supporting former center employees who were unjustly charged in this case."

The two former employees, Wesley E. Street, former administrator, and Robin L. Kelly, a nurse, were charged with reckless endangerment and neglect in an indictment announced Nov. 3. The two are no longer employed at Cromwell.

Genesis has promised to help defend the two former employees.

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