A North Iowa nursing home is facing two lawsuits filed by the families of residents who say neglect and abuse by staff led to their deaths.
The latest lawsuit against Timely Mission Nursing Home in Buffalo Center was filed two weeks ago in Winnebago County District Court by the family of Virginia Olthoff, who died in February 2018.
Olthoff's death, as well as the death of another unidentified Timely Mission resident on the same day, led to a $77,462 federal fine against the facility in August 2018.
The family of Darlene Weaver, a Timely Mission resident who died in June 2017, filed a lawsuit against the facility in November of that year.
A trial is set for March 2020 in the Weaver lawsuit, but the nursing home is seeking a postponement.
Court documents indicate the Weaver family could be asking the jury to award them several million dollars in both punitive and compensatory damages.
A state report says before Olthoff was taken to Mercy Medical Center--North Iowa on Feb. 27, 2018, she was crying, moaning, screaming and bleating, but was given only a nonprescription pain reliever.
Officials say Olthoff may not have had water several days before being admitted to the hospital.
Although Timely Mission staff members couldn't get a blood pressure reading or feel her pulse, they waited nearly three hours before requesting an ambulance to take her to the hospital, according to officials.
Olthoff died after being returned to Timely Mission the same day she was admitted to the hospital.
The other resident who died that day, like Olthoff, had lost a significant amount of weight and became unresponsive, according to the state report.
Olthoff's family, which cited the state report in the lawsuit, is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for medical expenses along with funeral and burial costs, as well as punitive damages.
In their lawsuit, Weaver's family say the nursing home failed to timely transfer her to a higher level of care when her symptoms required it.
Timely Mission also did not notify Weaver's doctor or her family of her change in condition and failed to monitor her appropriately to avoid injury, according to the lawsuit.
In addition, the nursing home didn't have adequate staff to care for Weaver, the lawsuit states.
Timely Mission "specifically denies that it is responsible for any acts or omissions that resulted in any injury, decline in health, or damages to Darlene Weaver," according to court documents.
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State officials investigated the Timely Mission Nursing Home 19 times due to complaints over the five years before the deaths of Olthoff and the unidentified resident.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fined Timely Mission $57,960 due to a September 2017 complaint-based inspection by state officials that revealed a staff member yelled and swore at residents, refused to assist them, and yanked on them by their arms and legs.
Timely Mission fired the abusive staff member.
The other 18 prior investigations "either did not result in deficiencies or resulted in low level deficiencies that did not require enforcement action from CMS," stated that organization's administrator, Seema Verma, in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in August 2018.
She also stated Timely Mission came back into substantial compliance with program requirements following each of these surveys, as well as the investigation in June 2018 following the deaths of Olthoff and the unidentified resident.
When the Globe Gazette contacted Timely Mission for comment, officials there released the following statement: "We place the utmost importance on the well-being and safety of those in our care. Our staff understands their great responsibility and focus on maintaining an outstanding and comfortable living situation for our residents. As a result, we are in complete compliance with state guidelines."
Over the past three years, serious deficiencies as defined by CMS have been reported at three other North Iowa nursing homes, according to a recent study by ProPublica, a non-profit news organization.
However, the actual severity of those infractions varies widely.
The Riceville Family Care and Therapy Center was fined $11,513 in the fall of 2016 after a resident who had been ordered to be on continuous oxygen died there.
A state investigation determined the nursing home failed to ensure staff were educated on and demonstrated proper use of portable oxygen tank administration.
A physician confirmed during an interview with an Iowa Department of Appeals inspector that a lack of oxygen could have contributed to the resident's death.
The nursing home was found in compliance during a follow-up visit in October 2016.
A search of online court records did not indicate the nursing home was ever sued over the death.
The other two North Iowa nursing homes with deficiencies considered serious enough to merit a fine over the past three years -- I.O.O.F. Home and Community Therapy Center in Mason City and Chautauqua Guest Home #2 in Charles City -- involved residents with memory issues getting out of the facility or wandering away from a group outing.
The I.O.O.F. was fined a total of $13,650 for two separate incidents in 2017.
In one incident a resident wandered away during an I.O.O.F. group outing to Lime Creek Nature Center and was found outside a nearby cement plant, according to a state report.
The other involved a memory care resident who was able to get out of the I.O.O.F. facility into the courtyard just after dark on a December day.
The resident was found less than half an hour later and brought back into the facility, according to state records.
Chautauqua Guest Home #2 was fined $6,500 following a November 2017 investigation into an incident the month before where a resident got out of the nursing home and wandered a few blocks away.