In a lawsuit, a health care worker said she reported patient abuse and neglect, as well as several safety violations, to supervisors a few days before a San Antonio nursing home’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
Since late March, 18 residents and one employee at Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, located at 4302 E. Southcross, have died after contracting the coronavirus.
An additional 75 residents and 29 workers at the facility tested positive for the virus, according to data from the Metropolitan Health District.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which helps regulate the state’s nursing homes, is currently investigating the facility.
“I reported over and over, and nothing was ever done,” said Minnie Monroe, a licensed vocational nurse who worked in the memory care unit at the nursing home for more than 12 years.
The former employee is now suing the nursing home for retaliation and gross negligence.
“We did the best that we could,” she said Friday in an interview at her home.
The 80-year-old said the facility was understaffed long before the coronavirus pandemic and that she and one aide worked in a unit caring for more than a dozen dementia patients at a time. The aide usually assigned to the unit spoke primarily Spanish, and Monroe said the language barrier made the situation even more difficult.
The lawsuit, filed late last month in state District Court, alleges that the for-profit company kept the facility understaffed by at least 20 percent in an effort to maximize profits.
The facility is one of 42 operated and managed by Arlington-based Advanced Healthcare Solutions. The lawsuit, however, lists Interstate Agent Services LLC of Dallas as the defendant.
The company has not yet filed a response in the case and didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In October, the nursing home was one of five facilities in San Antonio flagged by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for recent instances of abuse and neglect.
Monroe said that when she started to piece together just how serious the virus was, she grew even more concerned about her residents and worried that her age would make her more vulnerable to the virus.
The disease caused by the coronavirus is known to be especially dangerous to older adults with underlying health conditions, and it can spread more easily through nursing homes where residents live close together and medical workers move from room to room.
In her lawsuit, Monroe alleges that she was fired for reporting violations of infection control policies that would have reduced the spread of the virus and were mandatory under state and federal infection prevention protocols.
The 116-bed skilled nursing facility participates in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement programs and is required to comply with both federal and state regulations, which have been tightened during the pandemic.
Monroe said she saw the doors of medical units that were supposed to be locked propped open and that staff members entered the building without being screened for COVID-19 symptoms, receiving temperature checks or washing their hands.
After a patient died from COVID-19, she was given one disposable face mask to wear during her shift.
When she told a supervisor about her concerns, she said she was told, “You’re old, and you have a bad attitude.”
On March 27, her relief never showed up. She said she found out later that the nurse had called in.
She asked her boss for time off because she was at high risk of becoming sick or dying should she contract the virus. Monroe said that he told her, “We’re not giving vacations right now.”
The lawsuit doesn’t specify how much she’s seeking in damages for mental anguish, lost wages, court costs and attorney fees.
“The way I look at it, the staff members are just as much victims as the residents because they’re put in an impossible situation,” said personal injury attorney Andrew Skemp, who represents Monroe.
Monroe said while she’s lost her source of income, she’s not looking for personal gain. “My deal is to make people aware that this is what’s going on and maybe something will be done,” she said.
Skemp also represents the family of Dorothy “Pearl” Davis, who was employed by Southeast until she died from COVID-19 in May, and several families of residents who died or were sickened by the virus at the facility.
Source: EXPRESS NEWS