$15M wrongful death suit filed against Erwin nursing home

Brad Hicks • Jan 26, 2012 at 10:34 PM

ERWIN — A $15 million wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in Unicoi County Circuit Court against the Erwin Health Care Center nursing home alleging that neglect on its part contributed to the death of one of the center’s residents and it failed to notify the man’s family of his deteriorating condition.

The complaint, filed Wednesday afternoon by the son of William A. Warden Sr., said Warden entered the Erwin Health Care Center on March 8 and, at the end of that month, weighed 162 pounds. When Warden was admitted to Franklin Woods Hospital in Johnson City on May 5, he weighed 139 pounds, “which constitutes a more than 20-pound weight loss in fewer than 40 days,” the complaint said.

According to the complaint, Warden was visited by Alan Altizer on April 25 and the complaint said the two had a “pleasant conversation” at that time. However, medical notes from the nursing home May 2 indicate Warden’s condition had declined, according to the complaint. It states Warden was noted throughout that day to be “comatose” and “with an altered level of consciousness.”

“This was a significant change in condition for Mr. Warden,” the complaint states.

The complaint states Erwin Health Care Center failed to notify Warden’s family and treating physician of the change in his condition.

According to the complaint, Warden’s condition was noted as being lethargic May 3 but his family and treating physician were again not notified of the “significant change” in his condition.

The complaint states that on the morning of May 4, Warden’s condition had not improved and he was again noted to be lethargic. By 6 that evening, medical records from the center noted that Warden appeared to be “listless” and he was again labeled as lethargic, according to the complaint.

“It was not until 6 p.m. on May 4, 2011, that the Defendants actually attempted to notify Mr. Warden’s treating physician of Mr. Warden’s deteriorating condition,” the complaint said.

Warden’s physician ordered the nursing home to draw blood for analysis. According to the complaint, lab values from blood drawn that evening showed higher-than-normal levels of blood urea nitrogen level and creatinine, an elevated sodium level and a higher-than-normal white blood cell count.

“These lab values indicated that Mr. Warden had a severe infection,” the complaint said. “These lab values also indicated that Mr. Warden was already severely dehydrated and in renal failure.”

The complaint also states that at 10:10 p.m. May 4, the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital’s medical lab contacted the Erwin Health Care Center to alert them of these higher-than-normal levels. Warden was transferred to the Erwin Emergency Room at 11:29 p.m., according to court documents.

“Upon his own admission, Mr. Warden was noted to have a decreased level of responsiveness and was lethargic,” the complaint said.

A patient transfer form from the Erwin Health Care Center prepared by facility employees indicated the primary diagnosis they provided to the hospital was that Warden had “an altered mental status” and lists Warden’s weight as 148 pounds, according to the complaint.

“This Transfer Form demonstrates that the defendants either had no idea that Mr. Warden had become badly dehydrated, or intentionally misstated his condition,” the complaint said.

Warden’s family learned of the changes in his condition on the morning of May 5, according to the complaint.

“During the time period of April 25, 2011, through May 4, 2011, the defendant nursing home failed to notify the family or the treating physician of a significant decline in Mr. Warden’s condition,” it said.

The complaint also said Warden’s weight at the hospital May 5 was 139 pounds and that this weight loss “constitutes a significant decline in condition.”

“The lab values from May 4 portray a man with a raging infection who was profoundly dehydrated and in kidney failure. Mr. Warden’s critically high lab values would have manifested themselves through obvious physical symptoms such as lethargy, dry mucous membranes, a change in his activity level, dry mouth and finally, a coma-like condition that his own medical records indicate was present as early as May 2, 2011,” the complaint said.

Warden died May 10. The complaint said the center’s deviation in the standard of care “constituted the proximate cause” of his death.

Rebecca Adelman with Memphis-based firm Adelman Law Firm PLLC is the attorney for Erwin Health Care Center. Adelman said Erwin Health Care takes the allegations in the complaint seriously and that they will be fully investigated. She said a response would be prepared for court.

Adelman also said Erwin Health Care remains committed to providing quality care to its residents.

The plaintiff, William A. Warden Jr., is seeking $5 million in compensatory damages from Erwin Health Care Center and C & E Management Company, the management company over the center. The plaintiffs are also seeking $5 million for violation of the Tennessee Adult Protection Act and $5 million in punitive damages.

William A. Warden Jr. is represented by Nashville-based law firm Morris & Carnahan, PLLC. Attorneys from the firm could not be reached Thursday for comment.

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