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Attorney seeks witnesses to alleged abuse at care center

by Christy Chalmers

George McNally is looking for random acts of unkindness.

The Carson City attorney is seeking witnesses to bolster his legal arguments of negligence and abuse that he says resulted in two deaths and an amputation for former residents of the Cottonwood Care Center.

The lawsuits were filed in 1997 and 1998 in Douglas District Court, when the facility was owned by Carson-Tahoe Hospital. The center has since been renamed Valley Meadows and is now owned by its employees.

The original complaints listed allegations of physical negligence. One said that a center resident was kept in lurid conditions for 10 months before his death in 1996. Another claimed a resident had to have a leg amputated because he wasn’t given proper care or rehabilitation after checking into the facility to recover from injuries suffered in a car accident.

The third, filed in May 1998, charged neglect and abuse of an older person by not properly treating a scratch on a woman’s arm that later became infected. The complaint claimed the woman’s subsequent death was a direct result of the alleged neglect.

McNally originally worked with Minden attorney Don Springmeyer on the cases, but went solo when Springmeyer moved out of the area.

None of the cases has been resolved. Agreements were filed in March dismissing a group that owned the center for a short time as a defendant in the case, but Carson-Tahoe remains a defendant.

Attorneys in the case are now waiting for a ruling from the state Medical Dental Screening Panel, which decides whether cases involving medical malpractice are valid and suitable for trial.

Carson-Tahoe Hospital attorneys successfully argued that the cases should be reviewed by the panel, resulting in a freeze on court action.

n Negligence only. McNally says the cases don’t include claims of medical malpractice – they specifically allege negligence – so they don’t fall in the panel’s jurisdiction. He is hoping for a panel decision backing that argument, which would put the cases back into district court.

McNally says proving the negligence claims will be the focal point of his legal arguments if the cases go to trial, and that’s why he has drafted an advertisement asking “Have you or a loved one suffered abuse or neglect?” and soliciting contact with “witnesses or family members who have knowledge of such problems” at Cottonwood.

“My theme is going to be the insensitivity to human life in its golden years,” he said. “It’s going to allow us to get some additional witnesses to our theme.”

McNally says he witnessed abusive behavior by an aide toward a resident while visiting his mother, who lived at the facility for several years until her death in 1996. He said he watched an aide begin to push a woman in a wheelchair, dragging one of the woman’s feet under the chair and tangling it in a wheel. The woman screamed and the aide then yanked her foot from under the chair and shoved it into a footrest.

n Mother’s experience. “From what I witnessed when my mom was there, from what I’ve seen, it needs to be brought to the forefront,” said McNally.

By taking the cases to trial, McNally said he hopes to raise public awareness of elder abuse and neglect, something he predicts will increase as the baby boomers age and seek convalescent care.

“Us who have aging parents and know at some point in time they’re going to have to go to some facility, we want peace of mind that they will be able to live their lives with dignity,” he said. “This may open some doors.”