May 7, 2013 1:26 AM by Zach Thaxton
A Pueblo nursing home was hit with a $3.7 million judgement Monday when a jury found its management and staff liable for the death of one of its rehabilitation patients. The jury found that negligence by Belmont Lodge Health Care Center led to the death of 88-year-old Janet Smith in May 2011.
Denver-based attorney Jordan Levine represented Smith's daughter, Margaret, who sued after her mother's condition rapidly deteriorated resulting in her death shortly after entering Belmont Lodge for rehabilitation of two broken ankles in April 2011. Janet suffered from osteoporosis and broke both of her ankles in separate incidents, rendering her unable to walk. As a result, she was outfitted with a foley catheter so that she could urinate. Negligence related to the monitoring and care for that catheter by Belmont Lodge staff led to a severe urinary tract infection, resulting in Janet's death, Levine argued.
"The nurses failed to keep accurate records, the CNAs failed to keep accurate records, and then one of the records was doctored, falsified," Levine said. "It's not really what's in those records, it's what's not in those records," he said.
Margaret Smith says she started noticing a dramatic change in her mother's health on May 7, 2011. "When I tried to talk to her, she told me, 'I'm really tired. Why don't you just read and just let me sleep?'" Margaret had been at her mother's bedside in the days immediately prior and Janet was alert and communicative. Margaret noticed that the urine in the catheter bag had started turning darker and darker, yet no staff from Belmont Lodge came to empty it or check on it. The next day, May 8, 2011 -- Mother's Day -- Janet was found unresponsive in her room and was sent to Parkview Medical Center. Margaret says she was not notified and had arrived at Belmont Lodge to bring Mother's Day flowers to her mom, who served as a nurse in World War II and the Korean War.
"I walked in and a resident shouted to the nurse, 'Oh, God, the daughter's here,'" Margaret said. "When you hear that, you automatically think, what's going on?" When Margaret arrived at her mother's room, Janet was gone. "Everything was in a box. The room was made up like they were ready for the next patient," Margaret said.
Janet awoke briefly while at Parkview and addressed her daughter directly. "She looked at me and said, 'I want to die,'" Margaret said. "After finding out that she had a urinary tract infection that had gone septic, which meant that it was in her blood -- it wasn't something that was just going to clear up -- I made the decision to honor her wishes and let her go."
Levine argued that incomplete and falsified record-keeping on Janet Smith by Belmont Lodge nurses and staff amounted to gross negligence. "The rules are that you're supposed to empty the (catheter) bag, clean the area, and monitor for signs of infection and there was no monitoring whatsoever," Levine said. "All you have to do is order a urinalysis and call the doctor and they didn't do either of those things."
Levine argued that long gaps between visits by nurses or staff compounded the negligence. "There are gaps of 19 hours, 22 hours, and 12 hours of no record of any CNA going in the room," Levine said.
Monday, a Pueblo jury returned with its judgement: $3.5 million in punitive damages against Belmont Lodge Health Care Center and $200,000 to be awarded to Margaret Smith for her pain and suffering.
"You don't want to be the person who sues somebody," Margaret said, adding that she never sought to profit from her mother's death, but rather sought to hold Belmont Lodge accountable. "I think that now I can probably start the proper grieving process and move on with my life," Margaret said.
Belmont Lodge was represented by attorneys with the Gordon & Rees Law Firm in Denver. They never responded to News 5's request for comment on the verdict.