Man claims nursing home's negligence led to father's death

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Aug. 1, 2013 at 3:01 a.m.
Updated Aug. 2, 2013 at 3:02 a.m.

An out-of-state man is trying to prove that the Port Lavaca Nursing and Rehabilitation Center caused his father's death.

A recent 13th Court of Appeals decision may provide him that chance.

Henry Scott Baker, of Indiana, sued the Calhoun County corporation in 2011, about two years after his father, Henry Herbert Baker, 68, died.

The son claims workers there failed to operate under state and federal standards of care.

He claimed it was at the 524 Village Road facility that his father developed severe skin ulcers, also known as pressure sores and bed sores. They were left untreated and deteriorated so badly they became open and infected, resulting in the amputation of his right foot and persisting until his death, he said in court documents.

The lawsuit also claims doctors prescribed his father unnecessary drugs to modify his behavior, despite a federal guideline that a patient should be weaned off the medication annually.

The suit also highlights other incidents, such as several unwitnessed falls and a 41-pound weight loss not believed to be appropriate, even for an amputee.

The defendants, which also include Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Recency Nursing Center Partners of Port Lavaca and the center's medical directors, Drs. Timothy McFarland and Don Paul Bunnel, denied the claims.

In court documents, they asserted his father's injuries, if true, were unavoidable or caused by an unnamed third party of whom they had no control.

The suit is expected to be heard by District Judge Skipper Koetter, although no date has been set.

This came after the 13th Court of Appeals reversed Koetter's dismissal of the case and remanded it back to his court.

Justices ruled July 25 Koetter should have allowed the plaintiff to include a report by an unaffiliated but well-known geriatric specialist who found the center to have breached the standard of care. The doctor was qualified to deliver the report, which was both sufficient and not subject to a statute of limitations, the justices wrote.

"We've gotten past the first hurdle," said John K. Etter, who represents Henry Scott Baker.

Requiring an expert report is meant to weed out frivolous claims. Other states have similar procedures, he said.

Etter, of the Rodney & Etter law firm in New Orleans, La., believed the justices reviewed the specialist's report thoroughly. He added that elder Baker's injuries were preventable.

Defense attorney Paul Swacina, of Victoria, meanwhile, disagreed with the higher court's analysis.

"Because the case was initially dismissed on procedural deficiencies, (the Port Lavaca Nursing and Rehabilitation Center) is confident that once Judge Koetter or a jury have an opportunity to consider the facts of the case, the lawsuit will again be dismissed," Swacina wrote in a statement.

Baker also was not under Bunnell's care, said Bunnell's attorney Thomas F. Nye, of Corpus Christi.

The defendants have until Aug. 9 to file a motion for rehearing in the 13th Court of Appeals.

Baker, the son, did not place his father in the nursing home nor did he have a chance to visit him there. He conferred with family members and other doctors via telephone about whether to file suit after he learned of his father's death, Etter said.

Baker is serving a life prison sentence in a federal prison in Terre Haute, about 70 miles west of Indianapolis, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In 1997, he was convicted in federal court, in the Western District of Tennessee, on charges of extortion, racketeering and threats, according to court documents.

The nursing home, built in 1986, was acquired by its current owners in 2001. It has 115 residents and 125 employees, Swacina said.



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