BAY MINETTE, Ala. – Hollis Thorn served in the Navy during the 1940’s, then became a Baptist minister. After his retirement, Thorn was stricken with diabetes.
In 2005, Betty Thorn realized she could not take care of her husband. “It grieved me beyond all measure to have to consider putting him in a nursing home,” said Thorn.
A friend told her about the William F. Green Home. “I thought that maybe that was the answer to our problem,” she said.
She would soon feel quite differently. “When we took him over there, he had no sores on his body,” she told FOX10 News.
The nurses required Thorn to make a list of the medical services her husband would need. Thorn says she did so, paying close attention to a diabetic’s diet. A few days later, she realized something was not right when she had lunch with her husband, “They would give him apple juice, tropical drink, and all the things a diabetic should not have.”
Thorn also says her husband’s feet were not elevated as doctors had ordered. “The bottoms of both heels were black, the flesh had died where they had not kept his heels floated,” she described.
Thorn says her husband’s condition continued to deteriorate. He was rushed to a hospital because of back pain. The doctor on duty determined Hollis had a large bedsore. “Eight-and-a-half inches in diameter, five-and-half inches deep, it had gone to the bone.”
After three days in the hospital, Hollis Thorn died. “Had I had an experienced eye, I would have recognized that my husband was dying,” his wife said.
Betty Thorn’s story is one of many claims of improper patient care at W.F. Green. The U.S. Department of Justice identified 40 patients who were allegedly not getting the proper care there.
The DOJ report identified patients by initials because of privacy laws. The report states that Patient “L.M.” died in May 2007. Days before his death, L.M. told staff members he had fallen twice. An investigation wasn’t launched for five days.
On May 5, patient L.M. was found on the floor near his bed “unresponsive, pale, and clammy.” He was rushed to a hospital but died in the ambulance.
A DOJ consultant said that the bruising on his body appeared to be the result of slow internal bleeding, “He had fallen several times in the facility prior to the fall that caused his death.”
Montgomery attorney Jere Beasley says patient L.M. is his client, Army veteran Leroy Myers.
Though the DOJ would neither confirm nor deny it, details in the report match the facts in a pending lawsuit filed by Beasley, including the dates he was there and the cause of death.
“We had done a thorough investigation. We were confident that this is a case that should be filed, and we are hoping it will have a good outcome on this facility,” said Beasley.
Since 2004, the facility has been operated by Health Management Resources out of South Carolina. The home in Bay Minette is one of three in Alabama run by the company.
The Baldwin County site has seen its fair share of problems. In 2005 and 2007, two former directors resigned amidst allegations of wrongdoing.
HMR’s contract ended this year, so they had to rebid to get the contract again. As it turns out, HMR won the contract as the only company to bid. Leaders at the Veterans Affairs office say they have confidence in HMR.
FOX10 News arranged an interview with HMR leader Bill Biggs to respond to this report. He agreed, then said no because his attorneys advised him not to speak with us.
However, this is what he told members of the State Veterans Board during an April meeting:
“We want to again thank you for the opportunity that you given HMR to continue to serve and give care to the veterans of the state of Alabama. The past five years have been a great challenge, but I think the veterans in our home have received very good care, and we look forward to moving forward in doing that over the next five years. The commitment I made to you five years ago continues to stand today.”
Veterans Affairs Commissioner Clyde Marsh did agree to speak with us on camera. His signature appears on the contract.
Here is part of the conversation:
” FOX10: Was there any apprehension in awarding this contract considering the DOJ’s report and what’s going on right now
Marsh : None whatsoever. Those are unrelated issues.
FOX10: Is none of what they found true, or is the whole report inaccurate.
Marsh : Uhhh…I would say the report’s findings were inconsistent.
Marsh : We are in the homes every day. We know we provide good services, and some of the things that were in the report are contradicting or not consistent. We pointed those out.
FOX10: So you are 100-percent confident in HMR providing services to veterans in South Alabama.
Marsh : Yes.
But Commissioner Marsh would not respond to what families say happened at the home.
“We certainly don’t want to get into discussion on the details until we get this worked out with DOJ,” said Marsh. “I will tell you that we have folks that break their backs every day and go to the degree to take care of our veterans. If we find something that needs to be improved, We will improve it. If we find something that needs to be corrected, we will correct it.”
The families say they hope the DOJ report and this story will bring change. “I hope that this interview will help keep someone else from having to go through the agony and the frustration that my family had to go through in the way my husband was treated,” said Betty Thorn.
The Myers case is going to trial later this year. Thorn says she is considering filing a suit, but has not committed.
Meanwhile, the DOJ is still investigating the abuse claims. The contract HMR has will last through the next five years worth $25 million.
Governor Bob Riley signed the final documents. His office did release a statement saying, “the contract did pass the legislative review committee, and therefore the governor was comfortable with signing the document.”
Others are happy with the facility.
FOX10 News spoke with some veterans who live in the W.F. Green home right now, and those people say they have no problem with the site.
They even say the DOJ’s report is bogus.
In fact, one woman we spoke with says her loved one is very pleased with the services.
Peggy Hesse is the caretaker for Army veteran William Davis.
Davis has been in the home since last year and says the Bay Minette facility is a great place to live. “We were very fortunate to get him in here. He’s been here since the 10th of August 2008, and it’s a wonderful place. I’ve never been disappointed one day,” said Hesse.
“Just made it home, everybody is so friendly. Like you have a lot of brothers and sisters in the home,” said Davis.
“It’s always going to be problems. I want to be fair. I want people to know this is a terrific veterans home and overall terrific. So if I sound like a supporter, you got it,” said Hal Pierce, who is a member of the South Alabama Veterans Council.
To hear their comments, click here .
Read the Department of Justice Report at www.USDOJ.gov .
Click here for the Contract with HMR
Alabama Veterans Home Quick Facts
* Bill Nichols Veterans Home in Alexander City opened 1989
* Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville and W.F. Green Home in Bay Minette opened in 1996
* All facilities have about 150 beds.
* A new veterans will be built in Pell City in 2010
Eligibility Requirements for placement:
To be eligible for care from any Alabama State Veterans Home, the veteran must meet the following eligibility requirements:
Must be honorably discharged from military service with a minimum of 90 days of service, of which one day was during a wartime period. DD-214 or equivalent must be part of the application package. (no exceptions)
Must meet the qualifications as set forth by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs criteria for skilled nursing care.
Must have been a resident of the State of Alabama during the immediate past 12 months. (No exceptions) (Proof of residency may be required).
Must have had a medical examination by a physician within 90 days of admission request and exam will show that veteran does not have:
* medical or nursing care needs for which Home is not equipped or staffed to provide.
* behavioral traits which may prove to be dangerous to the well-being of the resident, other residents, staff, or visitors.
* a diagnosis or confirmed history of mental illness or mental retardation that outweighs medical condition.
Other veterans who do not have war-time service may be admitted to the Home on a space-available basis. These veterans will not be placed on a waiting list or placed before wartime veterans.
Applicants for the State Veterans Home will be checked against the Sex Offender Registry and a background check for active felony status.
Anyone found to be on the Sex Offender Registry or in a felony fugitive status shall not be considered for admission.
Source: Al Dept. Of Veteran Affairs
Chronological History of the Department of Veterans Affairs
1930 – The Veterans Administration created by Executive Order 5398, signed by President Herbert Hoover on July 21. At that time, there were 54 hospitals, 4.7 million living veterans and 31,600 employees.
1933 – The Board of Veterans Appeals established.
1944 – On June 22, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944” (Public Law 346, passed unanimously by the 78th Congress), more commonly known as “The GI Bill of Rights,” offering home loan and education benefits to veterans.
1946 – The Department of Medicine & Surgery established, succeeded in 1989 by the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration, renamed the Veterans Health Administration in 1991.
1953 – The Department of Veterans Benefits established, succeeded in 1989 by the Veterans Benefits Administration.
1973 – The National Cemetery System – renamed the National Cemetery Administration in 1998 – created when Congress transferred 82 national cemeteries from the Army to VA. The Army kept Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
1988 – Legislation to elevate VA to Cabinet status signed by President Reagan.
1989 – On March 15, VA became the 14th Department in the President’s Cabinet.