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Jury awards woman $1.2 million over nursing home's neglect

Shirley Burrows needed follow-up treatment for three “superficial” bedsores when she was discharged from a Lockport hospital to a Newfane nursing home.

Instead of getting better, Burrows’ sores worsened, her attorneys said. The wounds became infected, and a bone in Burrows' lower back was exposed.

A Niagara County jury earlier this week awarded $1.25 million to the 72-year-old woman, after determining Newfane Rehab & Health Care Center was negligent in its care of her.

The jury award was unusual: Most lawsuits against Western New York nursing homes are settled before trial and the amount is kept private at the nursing homes' request.

“She had gone to the nursing home for wound care treatment and they horribly neglected her,” said Brian R. Hogan, one Burrows’ attorneys at Brown Chiari law firm. “What makes this egregious is they knew she had sores and she was not seen by a doctor at the nursing home.”

Burrows was transferred from Eastern Niagara Hospital to the nursing home on March 3, 2015, following her approximately two-week hospital stay. After her bedsores worsened, she was taken to Mount St. Mary Hospital’s wound care clinic in Lewiston.

“When she arrived at the clinic, the staff was saw the size and and depth of the wounds they became emotional and immediately admitted her to the hospital for surgery,” Michael C. Lancer, Burrows' other attorney, said.

Her wounds were on her sacrum and backside, the lawyers said.

Bedsores, also known as pressure sores, occur when a section of the body is pressing against a surface for too long and not repositioned to alleviate the pressure. Medical protocol to prevent sores calls for repositioning every two hours.

These injuries remain an ongoing issue in nursing homes despite efforts in recent years in New York State to drive down the number of residents who end up with them.

At Newfane Rehab, 6.02 percent of the long-term, high-risk residents developed bedsores from July 2017 through June 2018. Only 0.2 percent of the short-term residents there had new or worsened bedsores. Both marks were better than the statewide averages: 6.8 percent for long-term residents and 0.8 percent for short-term residents.

“This is the sort of thing we see over and over again at different nursing homes. All they’re doing is documenting, but not really treating the wounds,” Lancer said.

The lawsuit was filed in June 2015 against the Newfane facility, Integrated Care Systems LLC, and Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport. The nursing home was operated until June 2015 by Integrated Care Systems LLC and the real estate was owned by the hospital. Companies run by out-of-town investors in Maximus Newfane LLC bought the operating license and the property at 2709 Transit Road that same month, according to state and federal records.

Attorney Seth A. Hiser, who defended the nursing home and Eastern Niagara Hospital in the two-week trial before State Supreme Court Justice Daniel J. Furlong in Niagara Falls, declined to comment. Craig Shaffer, the administrator at the nursing home, did not respond to requests for comment.

The federal government rates Newfane Rehab as a two star, or “below average,” facility in its five-star rating system.

After her surgery, Burrows was discharged from Mount St. Mary and she now lives at her home in Newfane.

“It took two years of treatment at the wound clinic and she still has an open wound, but it is a lot smaller and her daughter is caring for her,” Hogan said.

Of the verdict amount, the jury awarded $475,000 for past pain and suffering, $300,000 for future pain and suffering, and an additional $475,000 for violating a state public health law that requires special protections to nursing home residents, for the total of $1.25 million.

Attorney Don Chiari said his law firm was initially told by attorneys for the insurance company covering the nursing home that it “would never pay a dime on this case.”

Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Co. provided the insurance for the facility.

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