By Beth David, Editor
A New Bedford man has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alden Court (AC) in Fairhaven alleging medical negligence and a cover-up by nursing staff after Kathryn Miller, 88, choked on a whole clam and died in 2015. Mrs. Miller’s son, Steven Miller, alleges that the staff at Alden Court did not adequately supervise his mother at meals. She was also supposed to be on a granular diet.
Mrs. Miller was in the rehabilitation unit at Alden Court recovering from hip surgery.
According to court documents, filed on 3/1/17, the death certificate lists causes of death as asphyxia, aspiration of food bolus, and dementia. Fairhaven emergency medical personnel removed a piece of food from Mrs. Miller’s mouth that was identified as a “whole clam.”
The complaint, filed by Attorney Philip N. Beauregard, alleges that Alden Court “provided limited and misleading information,” failed to provide proper safety measures for Mrs. Miller, failed to properly prepare her food, failed to provide “adequate and appropriate skilled nursing care,” and failed to maintain complete and accurate records and charts.
It alleges that AC incorrectly assessed Mrs. Miller’s condition, which delayed the call to emergency personnel and that AC acted “deceptively and unfairly” to Mrs. Miller and her son.
The complaint asks for both compensatory and punitive damages.
In a response from Alden Court’s attorneys that was sent to Mr. Miller’s attorney, Alden Court asserts that all proper procedures were followed and that all staff are trained regularly in emergency procedures. That response also raises the possibility that pressure from chest compressions performed by EMTs during CPR could have forced “stomach contents back up the esophagus.”
Mr. Miller claims that his mother never should have had a clam.
Alden Court also claims that they do not serve clams.
The question seems to be, how did Mrs. Miller get the clam?
“We don’t know who gave her the clam, yet,” said Mr. Miller in a phone interview.
He said that Alden Court at first tried to blame a visitor, but it turns out the woman was not there that day. Mr. Miller also said that there was a snowstorm on 3/1/15, and he suspects that Alden Court was understaffed.
The facility denies all wrongdoing in court filings and in an email from Executive Director Brad Truini.
“The allegations in this case are without merit,” wrote Mr. Truini. “The Department of Public Health conducted a full review of the facts and found that the care we provided met all appropriate standards. This includes an immediate response to a patient in distress, providing CPR and contacting emergency medical services.”
Mr. Miller, however, said there are conflicting reports on how his mother’s situation was handled. Court documents say she reportedly had a “seizure-type event.” The incident happened just after 8 p.m.
The complaint alleges that EMTs were told that Mrs. Miller had “just finished eating,” although Alden Court’s records show it was three hours earlier. The complaint also says that AC refuses to identify the employee who fed Mrs. Miller or who made up her meal.
In the complaint, Mr. Miller contends that EMS personnel “noted in their record that ‘staff was overheard talking about the patient choking.”
But nothing in the record refers to choking, and “misleadingly refers to Mrs. Miller’s distress as a seizure followed by non-responsiveness.”
Attorneys for AC said the claim of incomplete and inaccurate records was based on statements that are “uncorroborated and unsubstantiated hearsay.”
They also blame the allegation of a cover-up on the same “hearsay.”
“Alden Court staff certainly has not engaged in any actions or omitted any facts which would constitute a ‘cover-up.’”
“The actions or omissions of Alden Court and its staff were not in any way the cause of Ms. Miller’s untimely, death,” reads the response.
Mr. Miller said that all he knows is, that his mother went in for a few weeks of rehab and never came out.
“Mom was not sick,” said Mr. Miller, noting that she fell at home and broke her hip. “I believe that if Mom would have gone to a different nursing home, she’d still be alive today.”
He said that he visited her that day and left at 3:30 p.m. because it was snowing. He then received a call at 9 p.m. telling him his mother was “on the way out.”
He also said no one from Alden Court ever contacted him after his mother’s death to express sympathy.
Mr. Truini said that the staff at Alden Court is serious about the care they give to each and every patient.
“Although we must respect patient privacy, I want to be clear that anytime a patient experiences an unanticipated outcome while at Alden Court, our team is saddened by the loss,” wrote Mr. Truini. “In this instance, we made every effort to support the family and fully express our sympathy during a difficult time.”
He also said that Alden Court has consistently been rated as a top facility.
“Our clinical staff, support staff and managers are well trained, committed professionals,” wrote Mr. Truini. “As a result, the staff of Alden Court are very proud of the following accomplishments: CMS 5 star rating 2017; US news and World report “Best Massachusetts Nursing Homes, 2016”; Deficiency free survey (Massachusetts Department of Public Health) 2016; Joint Commission Accredited”
Click here to download the entire 4/20/27 issue: 04-20-17 NFIA Egghunt