Saturday, October 26, 2002

Woman's family questions her death in facility


87-year-old may have suffocated in her bed

The Associated Press

BEACHWOOD, Ohio - The state is investigating whether an 87-year-old woman suffocated at the side rails of her bed in a nursing home.

The Ohio Department of Health is investigating whether her death Oct. 8 constitutes "a failure to protect the resident from life-threatening harm," said Kurt Haas, who supervises the department's Bureau of Long Term Care.

Meanwhile, Beachwood Police Chief Mark Sechrist said a police investigation involves whether the family of Willie Lee Burks was told by Beachwood Nursing and Health Care Center that she died from natural causes.

Mrs. Burks, from East Cleveland, moved into the 160-bed nursing home in this Cleveland suburb about six years ago. She had dementia that eventually developed into Alzheimer's disease, said her nephew, William D. Lampley.

"There are some troubling aspects for the family regarding our loved one's demise, including inconsistencies regarding what we were told about how she died," Mr. Lampley told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The facility's director, James Kallevig, said Thursday in a written statement: "We are participating in an investigation with the help of the Ohio Department of Health, which is standard procedure. We are proud of the quality health-care services we provide to our residents at Beachwood Nursing and Health Care Center."

Cuyahoga County Coroner Elizabeth Balraj said it may be several weeks before she has a ruling on the cause of Mrs. Burks' death.

But a preliminary investigation by the Long Term Care Ombudsman's Cleveland office, a consumer advocate for nursing home residents, found that Mrs. Burks may have suffocated when she became stuck between the bed mattress and rail. The report is based on the coroner's initial findings and interviews with nursing home employees and the family.

Nationally, about 400 people have died since 1990 after becoming trapped between the bars of bed rails or between the side rail and the mattress, according to reports compiled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the country's nursing homes, has no specific regulations for bed rails.




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