It's an issue tormenting families around the Bluegrass, families who can no longer take care of their loved ones decide to trust their loved one's care to a nursing home, only to have allegations of nursing home neglect appear a few months later. WAVE 3 Investigator Connie Leonard talked with one local family who hopes their story and others will move lawmakers to act.
The family of The Reverend Dennis Graham told us at the end of his life the devoted husband and father could only communicate with his eyes and they say every time they visited him, those eyes were crying out for help.
"It's the saddest, saddest story I've ever heard," said Sherry Cooke, who has lived the story for the past seven years, watching her brother Dennis, a Baptist minister once full of life, wither away to nothing.
"I wake up every morning dreaming about him and all the things that happened to him," Cooke said.
In 1999, Reverend Graham was salvaging an old church in Cincinnati when he fell from a ladder. Suddenly, the beloved pastor who grew up in Oldham County was a quadriplegic with a serious brain injury. For more than six years, Graham became a permanent resident at Pewee Valley's Friendship Manor Nursing Home, but in January 2007, he needed some hospital testing.
When Graham returned to the facility MRSA was suspected to be active, and he needed a private room. His home health care facility didn't have one available, so the pastor was transferred to Harborside Healthcare in Jefferson County, the place where Cooke claims everything started going downhill.
Cooke says "every time we went in, he was laying flat a lot of times on his back." She says her brother was supposed to be elevated, and his feeding tube was supposed to run continuously.
"And I was finding it left off a lot, just not even running at all," Cooke said. "He lost a lot of weight."
Photographs documented the weight loss and something much more disturbing — huge bed sores that Cooke says kept showing up on her brother's body.
Cooke claims she complained constantly about the feeding tube and the sores, but nothing changed.
"The pictures are absolutely horrible!" exclaimed Bernie Vonderheide of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform. "Anyone who saw them would be absolutely shocked that a human being could suffer this sort of situation."
The pastor's family contacted Adult Protective Services, and the agency ordered an investigation. "They found a lot more than I even knew about," Cooke said. According to the report, the state determined caretaker neglect was substantiated, and found many instances of the feeding tube being turned off as well as errors with his medication.
The most disturbing find: the report states the staff missed seven of 20 ordered doses of Graham's antibiotic. Cooke says her brother went six years without a bedsore at the Pewee Valley facility, but eight months into his stay at Harborside, Dennis Graham was dead.
Rev. Graham died in September, one week before his 55th birthday. Cooke says "what happened there was inhumane and would not be allowed to happen to animals."
In their findings, Adult Protective Services asked Harborside to re-train the staff on the facility's care plan.
We wanted to talk to Harborside officials about the complaints. They refused an on-camera interview but did send us this statement:
"We are aware of the complaints made by the family of a former resident at our care center. We have cooperated with the state department of health and the office of Inspector General in their investigations in the family's concerns. These agencies found our care center acted appropriately in the care of the individual."
Officials with Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform tell us they are pushing lawmakers for minimum staffing requirements at the state's nursing homes, hoping stories like Sherry Cooke's will push them to act.