ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Dozens of citations and thousands of dollars in fines against a St. Johns County nursing home were uncovered Wednesday by the News4Jax I-TEAM.
The discovery comes after deputies said a 71-year-old patient, identified by family as Daniel Henson, died after a fight last week with another patient, an 84-year-old man, at the St. Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center off State Road 207.
News4Jax was turned away from the facility Tuesday and Wednesday, but the I-TEAM pulled state and federal records showing a history of citations and violations.
Since 2005, records show, the facility has been fined seven times for a total of $14,600. Since 2010, it has been cited 26 times for violations like issues with catheters, food, giving notices their rights and problems with medication and prescribing, according to records. But authorities have never taken emergency action against the center.
Mary Henson, Daniel Henson's older sister, told News4Jax by phone Wednesday from Colorado that her brother, a veteran, was beaten April 9 by his roommate at the St. Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center and taken to a hospital and then to hospice, where he died five days later. According to News4Jax I-TEAM sources with knowledge of the investigation, Daniel Henson had a fractured skull, broken bones and severe injuries to his eyes.
Sources said the other patient involved has been transferred to another facility.
In the meantime, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the death as it awaits the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner, but has not released many details because of privacy laws.
Attorney Steve Watrel, who focuses on nursing home abuse and neglect cases, said he believes there is "absolutely" a legal case. He said he finds the details of Henson’s death, including the fight with another patient that came beforehand, disturbing.
"I would say 98% of the facilities are understaffed for the needs of their residents. So residents are left in their rooms by themselves for an extended period. Folks like this probably have a history of mental illness or violence are sort of left to roam the halls by themselves. And that’s why we see things like assaults, rapes and things of that nature," Watrel said. "It’s just really tragic."
In general, according to Watrel, nursing homes have a responsibility to take care of residents and keep them protected.
"We’re seeing a lot more of this because we have a mental health population and no facilities to put them in. So they’re getting put into nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which is totally inappropriate," he said. "You cannot put somebody with a history of mental illness in with somebody who is an elderly person that can’t defend themselves and expect a good outcome."
Watrel said there will be a thorough investigation, with interviews and evidence, but that will likely take months to complete.