From Thriving to Dying in Two Months: Wrongful Death Lawsuit at Owen County Nursing Home

Indiana nursing home abuse lawsuit

Indiana Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuit Claims Lack of Nutrition Results in Preventable Death

Kenneth “Butch” Burgin’s story has become increasingly common as 2020 comes to a close and 2021 begins—nursing homes shear their staffing numbers as they scramble to profit from mediocre Medicaid payments, and residents suffer the consequences. Indianapolis news agency WRTV reports that Burgin, who passed away in mid-November of 2020, experienced a sharp and unexpected decline in health that led to his death at Owen Valley Health Campus in Spencer, Indiana.

When Burgin was first admitted to the home on September 4, his family felt confident after weeks of research that they had chosen a facility equipped to handle his needs. An active and physically fit gentleman with a love for the outdoors, Burgin needed a securely locked memory unit to assist him with his progressing Alzheimer’s because he loved to be out and about so much that he posed an elopement risk. His family believed that Owen Valley was the perfect fit.

As the pandemic continued to challenge long-term care facilities across the country, Burgin’s family visited outside instead of indoors so that they could distance properly. However, as a new lockdown closed off communication with the nursing home after a staff member tested positive, their meetings changed to phone calls instead. This is where the trouble appeared to begin.

A Quick Decline in the Indiana Nursing Home

When staff reported that Burgin was uninterested in eating or getting out of bed, the family knew that something was amiss; this uncharacteristic behavior by their loved one arose suddenly, less than two months after his admission into the facility. On November 10, the family made the decision to pull Burgin from the home, and his condition shocked them.

Burgin, who had remained physically fit and healthy throughout his older years, was emaciated. His nose was broken, and several of his front teeth had been knocked out. The next day, Burgin passed away at the age of 73 despite his doctor’s previous prognosis that he had many healthy years remaining.

Burgin’s cause of death was listed as “protein calorie malnutrition,” a type of starvation caused by consuming too few calories with an insufficient amount of protein. The family of the deceased reached out to the nursing home for answers—the facility had never mentioned any lack of appetite prior to the phone call after which the family quickly removed Burgin from Owen Valley’s care. The injuries to Burgin’s teeth and nose were never discussed before his family saw them first-hand. He also suffered from dehydration and numerous bedsores in addition to severe facial contusions.

The family ascribes Burgin’s condition to a lack of adequate staff, allowing him to go without sufficient food or proper medical attention for days or even weeks at a time. As of January 2021, they have brought a lawsuit again the Owen Valley facility’s operator, Trilogy Health Services. This case has been filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance because Trilogy Health is a qualified healthcare provider.

WRTV reached out to Owen Valley for comment, and in response, they released a statement. However, the statement consisted of a form letter indicating that staff follow all applicable health guidelines and that information regarding residents cannot be shared in order to protect their privacy. No further comments were provided.

An Attorney’s Perspective on Mr. Burgin’s Death

As nursing home wrongful death lawyers, we routinely see wrongful death cases like the one involving Mr. Burgin. Dropping weight inside a facility is not uncommon. In fact, losing weight is a frequent sign of some underlying end stage disease process. However, while losing weight is common, the facility staff must try to get more nutrition in the vulnerable resident. Oftentimes, in the wrongful death claims we prosecute, the nursing home failed to fix the weight loss before it was too late. That is the underlying negligence we see in these kinds of cases.

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