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Scabies: Ignore and Coverup

Published on May 24th, 2018

The Washington Post reported on a nursing home resident Rebecca Zeni who was “eaten alive” by scabies. Parasitic mites had burrowed under her skin, living and laying eggs all over her body. By the time she died, vesicles and thick crusts had formed on her skin. Her right hand had turned nearly black, and her fingers were about to fall off.  The scabies that infected Zeni’s body had become so severe that bacteria seeped into her bloodstream causing her wrongful death.  Zeni died June 2, 2015. An autopsy found that she died of Staphylococcus aureus septicemia due to Norwegian crusted scabies, a severe form of scabies that affects people with weak immune systems, such as the elderly.

Zeni’s death is now the subject of a lawsuit filed against PruittHealth, a for-profit company that owns dozens of nursing homes, including Shepherd Hills in LaFayette, Ga., where Zeni lived for five years until she died. Shepherd Hills, a nursing home that had multiple scabies outbreaks in recent years and a history of health violations, failed to follow policies and procedures to prevent the occurrence and spread of the highly contagious disease.  Instead of providing the care that Zeni desperately needed, the lawsuit alleges that the nursing home allowed her to die an agonizing death.

A lawyer for the company, Jeffrey Braintwain, argues that, among other defenses, injuries may have been caused by people PruittHealth cannot control. This includes Puryear and Zeni herself.  The nursing home is blaming the resident!!!

Federal health inspection records paint a troubling picture of the company, which describes itself as the “regional leader” of providing long-term health care to the elderly in the southeast. In August 2013, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 10 residents and 10 staff members were affected by scabies. In October 2014, the home’s internal infection log shows, at least six patients were affected. In May 2015, according to the Department of Public Health, 20 residents and another 15 staff members were affected.

Many PruittHealth-owned facilities have similarly dismal records. Nineteen other facilities in Georgia, seven in South Carolina and one in North Carolina received one- and two-star ratings from Medicare.  Of the 56 nursing homes owned by Pruitt in Georgia, nearly half (46%) are rated “below” or “much below average.” In total, Pruitt’s one and two-star facilities collected $221 million from Medicaid in 2016 and 2017.

Zeni’s death raises crucial — and familiar — questions about for-profit nursing homes that have long been accused of sacrificing patient care to minimize costs and maximize bottom lines. Nursing homes owned by big corporations and private investment firms consistently performed poorly in terms of quality of care and are more likely than nonprofit and government facilities to be cited for “serious deficiencies” that harm residents, according to 2011 and 2016 reports by the Government Accountability Office. Staffing levels are usually lower, meaning trained nurses spend less time with residents each day.

Joe Pioletti
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