Nursing home where resident died inspected

February 20, 2009 3:41:04 PM PST
A court has ordered the inspection of an Itasca nursing home where a resident wandered out into the cold and died in January. The inspection comes in connection with a wrongful death lawsuit the family 89-year-old Sarah Wentworth filed. Relatives filed the lawsuit last week, alleging neglect and abuse of the part of the facility where the woman had lived for almost three years.

While prosecutors continue their investigation into the Itasca nursing home, the woman's family conducted its own investigation Friday into how the 89-year-old ended up freezing to death.

The court ordered inspection took just over an hour, but even in that short time, attorneys for the family of Sarah Wentworth say the information, including measurements cataloged by photos and videotape, points to an attempt by nursing home employees to hide the real circumstances surrounding the elderly woman's death.

"I can assure you, it was much warmer outside today, and I was chilly in the court yard," said Louis Cairo, the Wentworth family's attorney.

Video gathered by experts hired by Wentworth family attorneys and supplied to ABC7 Chicago gives a glimpse inside the Arbor of Itasca nursing home and the 10-feet of hallway they say Sarah Wentworth would have had to walk to get to a door leading to the courtyard where she was found.

Nursing home workers had told authorities that the 89-year-old woman, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, wandered outside on her own. However, the woman's family questions how Wentworth, who used a walker and, they say, never left her bed unassisted, ended up outside without help.

Attorneys for the family also question why a 23-year-old female worker watching television near the facility's nurses station that night allegedly ignored a security alarm triggered by Wentworth's electronic ankle bracelet.

The lawyers say the worker walked almost 20 feet to manually turned it off, but failed to investigate, even though a handwritten note warned employees to do just that.

Sources say employees often use the same exit for smoking breaks.

"It's a glass door. Just standing inside that doorway, you would be able to see the entire length of that court yard," said Chris Hughes, also a family attorney.

Wentworth was found outside in subzero temperatures some two hours later in the facility's courtyard.

Police were called to the facility February 5 after the Arbor staff reported an unresponsive resident. Authorities became suspicious after workers gave conflicting stories.

The nursing suspended the four employees on duty that night and released a statement, which reads in part, "The Arbor of Itasca is cooperating fully with the Illinois Department of Public Health and local law enforcement authorities regarding their investigation of the death of that resident."

Meanwhile, the DuPage County states attorney is considering criminal charges in the matter, and Sarah Wentworth's family is searching for answers.

"They are charged with the responsibility to make sure they know where the residents are and that the residents are safe. And when you have reason to believe there is a potential for a resident to be in an unsafe situation, you have to the responsibility to investigate," Cairo said.

An attorney for the nursing home says Arbor of Itasca is conducting its own investigation, as well.

The daughters of Sarah Wentworth were not present at Friday's inspection, at the request of nursing home officials.