BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — When the family of Ruth Murray could no longer care for her, they placed the 82-year-old into a nursing home, Emerald South on Delaware Avenue.
They never thought they’d get the call they did on Friday morning, that Murray had been injured at the facility.
But the woman’s injuries turned out to be far worse than the facility let on, the family and police said.
And, according to medical authorities, those injuries from what turned out to be a brutal beating allegedly at the hands of another Emerald South resident, are part of the reason she died Sunday.
Emerald South staff told police the woman was injured after she mistakenly walked into the room of a male resident, and some type of altercation followed.
Murray has Alzheimer’s disease, according to the family. The male resident has dementia.
Emerald South staff reportedly told the family her mother had just fallen, and had cuts on her head and nose and a bruised backside.
But doctors at ECMC told the family that Murray had facial fractures, broken ribs, broken nose and a collapsed lung. Although she was listed in stable condition over the weekend, she died Sunday. An autopsy performed Monday showed the woman’s injuries contributed to her death, as did her age and poor health.
News 4 legal analyst Terry Connors says a facility like Emerald South has a duty to protect its residents from the staff and one another.
“Their obligation is to protect the residents of the nursing home,” Connors said. “And it’s an obligation to make sure that when someone is sent to a nursing home, it’s not to send them there to die. It’s not a warehouse. It’s something that can give them the quality of life that they’re entitled to.”
The Erie County District attorney’s office, as well as Buffalo police are investigating Friday’s incident to determine whether criminal charges are necessary.
But because the alleged male attacker has dementia, there’s a chance that criminal charges wouldn’t apply.
“The prosecutors will have to deal with the mental state of the individual who perpetrated the attack,” Connors said. “That’s the issue that they’ll grapple with to decide if they can bring a criminal case.
“There has to be some intent,” he said. “And obviously if a person, because of some type of mental disease or defect, cannot formulate that intent, then you can’t bring a criminal case.”
The Erie County Department of Senior Services is a resource for families looking for help finding longterm care for a loved one.
The department’s new commissioner, Timothy Hogues, said hearing about instances like what’s alleged to have happened at Emerald South are painful for his staff.
Hogues said there are a multitude of resources — most of them free — to research quality of care in longterm facilities.
For example, medicare.gov, gives Emerald South a one star out of five rating, based on the facility’s latest inspection.
That inspection in March by the state’s Department of Health, found dozens of violations, ranging in administrative and record keeping to resident care and dignity. In fact, Emerald South received four times the number of citations than the state average, according to the DOH website, which is another resource available to local families.
Hogues said families must take responsibility as well, including visiting a loved one as often as possible, and at as many different times of day as possible.
“And when you visit, you have to observe, use your five senses,” Hogues said.
If during visits, family members notice anything that seems out of place or dangerous: “You have to document, you have to follow up,” Hogues said. “And that’s the only way we can get these organizations and long term care facilities that aren’t meeting the standards and highlight what’s going on, or whatever it takes to shine the light on these organizations because it’s shame.”
The county’s Department of Senior Services has a website with more information. Or, reach them via phone at (716) 858-8526.
Meanwhile, Emerald South said they’ve spoken with Ruth Murray’s family, and are conducting their own investigation. As is the state’s Department of Health, the same agency that cited them for dozens of violations in March.