Consumer Alert: Mother has heart attack, nursing home never notifies family

“Can you imagine your mom alone for nine hours, having a heart attack and thinking you didn't care enough about her to be there?” Renee Sevigny of Warwick told NBC 10 News. (Submitted photo)

When your mother is in a nursing home, you expect to be notified when she leaves.

When she’s taken to the hospital, suffering a heart attack, you most certainly expect a call.

“Can you imagine your mom alone for nine hours, having a heart attack and thinking you didn't care enough about her to be there?” Renee Sevigny of Warwick told NBC 10 News.

Last Wednesday night, Sevigny got one of the worst phone calls of her life.

“We received a call from the doctor at Rhode Island Hospital, who asked if there was a DNR on file, which is a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order,” said Sevigny.

Sevigny’s mother, Mary Priscilla Higby, had suffered a heart attack. She was in serious condition at Rhode Island Hospital, and apparently had been for hours.

But, despite paying $15,000 a month for round-the-clock care at Brookdale South Bay, the South Kingstown nursing home never notified Renee, or her sister.

“And I actually got a hold of my sister to inform her of what was going on and she said, ‘I never got a call from South Bay,’” said Sevigny.

The Rhode Island Health Department told NBC 10 that not immediately notifying a resident’s legal representative or an interested family member when there is a significant change in the resident’s physical status is a violation of state and federal law.

On the phone, NBC 10 asked Brookdale South Bay Director of Nursing Marlene Verrier how it happened.

Verrier said the nurses didn't think Higby's condition was that serious at the time. She said the nurse tried to call Higby’s family, but was disconnected after two rings, also adding that if nurses thought it was a true medical emergency, they would have kept calling.

“They have a protocol to follow, and they didn't,” said Sevigny. “No one at Brookdale South Bay has said they're sorry, no one has taken accountability for their actions, and no one has called to ask how she is.”

NBC 10 also asked Brookdale Senior Living’s corporate office the following questions:

  • Why wasn’t the family notified when Mary Higby was transported to the hospital?
  • What is standard procedure when a resident leaves the facility? When are families notified?
  • What’s being done to rectify the situation for Ms. Higby’s family?
  • Who’s ultimately responsible for notifying Ms. Higby’s family?
  • Will the facility reassess procedures in light of what happened with Ms. Higby?

Heather Hunter, Senior Public Relations Specialist, said in response:

“We take the safety and wellbeing of our residents very seriously and having the trust of our residents and their families is extremely important to us. In the event a resident experiences a change in his/her condition, our associates will first attend to the resident’s needs and will then contact the appropriate parties, including reaching out to the resident’s legally responsible party promptly.

It’s important for you to know that due to privacy and confidentiality regulations and company policy, we cannot provide information about residents’ conditions before or after leaving our community.”

Meanwhile, Higby is recovering.

Sevigny said she's filed a complaint with the state.

If investigators determine the facility violated state regulations, it could be cited with a deficiency.

“Now that my mom has recovered a bit, she expressed how frightened she was,” Sevigny said. “I couldn't have done anything medically for her, but I could have been there for her.”

Verrier admits that the nurse "failed" in notifying the family. She said Brookdale South Bay called a meeting with all nurses to go over protocol.

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