Another lawsuit filed against Cottonwood |

Another lawsuit filed against Cottonwood

Andy Bourelle

Another lawsuit has been filed against Cottonwood Care Center, the second in three weeks.

Attorneys Don Springmeyer of Minden and George McNally of Carson City have filed a suit in the Douglas County court system on behalf of Ronald L. Novak, a former resident of the long-term care facility in the Gardnerville Ranchos.

Novak was a resident in 1996, from early March to late April. On May 6, 1996, Novak’s right leg was amputated below the knee. The lawsuit alleges the need for the amputation was a direct result of of the care he received while at Cottonwood.

Novak said he was a resident of Cottonwood because he had been in an automobile accident in February 1996. His pelvic bone was broken, and he was supposed to stay for about seven weeks while it healed.

As a result of neglect in his care, Novak said, he developed gangrene on the heels of both his feet. Later during rehabilitation for his accident, because of negligent care, his heels became further injured, and amputation became necessary.

The other lawsuit was filed by Springmeyer and McNally Nov. 25 regarding the death of former Cottonwood resident Ralph J. Alm, on behalf of his widow Donna Alm and administrator of his estate Brandy Dunivan. The lawsuit alleges he died as a direct result of the care he received at Cottonwood.

Donna Alm said her husband was first admitted to the facility in February 1995 because he had an infection which needed 24-hour antibiotic treatment. He was only supposed to be a patient there for about three weeks, but remained there until he went to Barton Memorial Hospital in November 1996, where he died.

Donna Alm broke her ankle shortly after he was admitted to Cottonwood, and her inability to get up and move around resulted in the need for Ralph Alm to stay at Cottonwood longer.

When he first was admitted to Cottonwood, Ralph Alm could walk, according to Donna Alm. By the time her ankle was healed, Ralph Alm was unable to walk and take adequate care of himself because he was not undergoing needed physical therapy. He had to stay at a nursing home.

During his residence at Cottonwood, he did not receive adequate physical therapy treatment and his personal hygiene needs were ignored, according to Donna Alm and the couple’s daughter Daryl Alm. The facility stopped giving him medication to prevent strokes, and he had two of them, resulting in his inability to eat. He lost more than 50 pounds while at the facility and developed an eye infection that was not treated properly for six weeks before he ultimately died of pneumonia.

The doctors at the hospital took cultures from his infected eye and lungs, according to the Alms. When the results came back his eyes and lungs were infected with a dangerous bacteria, he was immediately put into isolation.

“His eye was infected at least six weeks,” Daryl Alm said. “How many other people were infected?”

She said she witnessed employees, not wearing gloves, applying “goop” to his eye then treat other patients without washing their hands.

“I know there are probably others who were infected by the bacteria, gotten sick from it and maybe even died from it,” Daryl Alm said.

According to the Alm’s, they came in on several occasions to find Ralph Alm unclean.

“You can tell when someone’s been sleeping in their clothes three or four days,” Donna Alm said. “He was filthy. He was unshaven. He just looked like some derelict they picked up off the street.”

Donna Alm said she removed his dentures once to find them filthy and brown, with green clumps stuck on them and a foul odor to them.

The Alms said they filed about four grievances while he was there but was unable to take him anywhere else. Other conveniently located facilities were not accepting patients.

“Where were we going to take him?” Daryl Alm said.

Barton Memorial Hospital’s nursing home at the Lake was being built at the time. Donna Alm said she thinks he was the first on the list to go there, but he died shortly before it opened.

“We kept thinking they’re going to open up there,” said Daryl Alm, “they’re going to open up there, they’re going to open up there.”

The two lawsuits have been filed in Douglas County court but have not been served to Cottonwood by an employee of the courts. Springmeyer and McNally have, by law, four months before they must serve the suits. The attorneys said they do not have immediate plans to serve the suits, because other potential lawsuits may be filed with them.

At the time of the alleged occurrences, Cottonwood was managed by Carson-Tahoe Hospital. After the facility failed its annual licensure inspection in May, Premier Care Health Services took over management Aug. 1. David Holmberg of Premier Care, and now administrator of Cottonwood, has more than 20 years’ experience in the field and has said helping troubled facilities is his specialty.

Although neither he nor assistant administrator Mike Jacobs could be reached for this report, both have maintained the facility’s deficiencies have been corrected.

In October, the Nevada Bureau of Licensure and Certification dropped the $3,000-a-day fine and ban on admissions the facility had been facing since May, with state officials saying a majority of the problems had been taken care of.

Springmeyer estimated it could be as long as a year before these lawsuits appeared in court because of the amount of work both sides would be involved in.

According to Springmeyer and McNally, Cottonwood has said the medical records of Ralph Alm and Novak have been lost.