Grandson tells panel about impact of kin's death

April 03, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

The grandson of an 89-year- old woman who was literally fed to death last year in a Baltimore nursing home told a legislative committee yesterday that families deserve to be informed when their loved ones get substandard care.

David Baxter, whose grandmother died Nov. 15 in the Villa St. Michael Nursing home in Northwest Baltimore, said he had to read a newspaper article to find out what happened.

"No one knows the hurt our family is going through," Baxter told members of the House Committee on Health and Government Operations. "Something needs to be done."

Baxter, who was speaking publicly for the first time about his grandmother's death, was one of a series of witnesses to testify for a bill passed by the Senate to require family notification when state inspectors find violations that adversely affect patients in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

Recounting his family's experiences, Baxter said they were only told that his grandmother had died of a heart attack. In fact, state inspection reports show that Bertha Small died after a feeding tube was left running continuously for hours.

Carol Benner, director of the state Office of Health Care Quality, told the committee yesterday that the woman "was fed to death. She literally exploded."

Baxter said that the first hint that something abnormal had occurred came when the family was told the body couldn't be released to the funeral home because the state medical examiner was performing an autopsy.

On Nov. 22, a week after the death, Baxter said he read a story in The Sun about a woman who had died in a nursing home. The details of the woman's death seemed so familiar that he suddenly realized the victim was "Granny," he said.

"To this day no one has called my mother and told her what happened," Baxter said. He added that he repeatedly tried to contact state and federal agencies, but no one called back. "It's just amazing ... all these ABC alphabet departments," he said. "None of them want to talk."

Benner agreed that family notification should be required, though she suggested the bill be amended to clarify the circumstances under which families must be informed. But she said she was willing to accept the Senate version of the bill. "It's common sense to notify the family when something bad happens," Benner said.

Mark Woodard, lobbyist for the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, said the nursing home industry wants an amendment to limit the notification requirement to cases where the patient had "an unanticipated outcome." He said the amendment would result in speedier notification. The Senate bill was designed to generate lawsuits, Woodard said. He and another nursing home industry official also said federal regulations require notification in some cases.

But Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill, urged the committee to reject amendments.

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