Los Angeles, CA- Elderly residents of nursing homes can be unsteady on their feet, and they are prone to falling. For a younger person, a fall is not so dangerous, but to a senior, a fall can be lead to broken bones and other serious injuries. Sometimes falls can be suspicious, concealing a larger pattern of abuse by nursing home staff or a neglected facility.
The untimely death of Elsie Fossum should serve as cautionary tale for people who have loved ones living in nursing homes and assisted-living centers.
The Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered the story of Miss Fossum while doing an in-depth piece on the dismissal of nursing home abuse cases in the state of California, and what they found was shocking.
Fossum, 95, had been living at Claremont Place Assisted-Living for a number of years after she fell at her church in Pomona, California. She moved into the facility because it offered her more freedom and allowed her to spend the evenings with her companion of 50 years, Lulu Hohensee. That would later become a source of ire for some of the facilities’ staff who preferred to keep the patients on a regular schedule.
Sabrina Bengoa was one of the Claremont employees who found it particularly annoying that Fossum’s schedule wasn’t to her liking. She repeatedly complained about Fossum, describing her as “too fucking slow” and stating “I can’t handle her,” the CIR said.
Bengoa began working at the facility in February of 2005 and quit in 2006 after Fossum suffered a catastrophic injury which eventually led to her death.
Begnoa was the only staff on duty the night of July 3, 2006 when Fossum allegedly fell out of her bed. At dawn, Fossum was found on the floor of her room, suffering from a broken arm at the shoulder. Her face was badly bruised; she had a black eye and cut on her upper lip, according to the CIR report.
“She looked like her face had been hit by a Mack truck,” recalled Beverlee McPherson, Claremont Place’s nursing director at the time. “It was very gruesome. She was beaten to a pulp.”
Fossum was rushed to the hospital, but she died within three weeks of dehydration because she refused to drink or eat.
The staff of the Claremont made it clear to police and investigators at the Department of Public Health that they believe Bengoa abused Fossum, but her case languished for years and was eventually closed without an adequate investigation or charges against Bengoa.
Elsie Fossum’s case is not a unique one; thousands of nursing home patients are slapped and beat by their impatient, intolerant caregivers in long-term care facilities across the country. As with Fossum’s case, many of these abusive incidents go undetected since it easy to pin the blame for a patient’s injuries on a fall. But when facility staff, police and hospital staff are concerned the injuries are not accidental or are questionable, then the incident should be thoroughly investigated by the relevant authorities. The families of those who are injured in the nursing home should also contact a nursing home abuse attorney to investigate their loved ones injuries or wrongful death and seek compensation on their behalf.