Victim's granddaughter starts group to push better care for dementia patients

Victim's Granddaughter wants to help other families

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 16, 2010 

The granddaughter of a woman whose abuse at a Richmond nursing home was caught on videotape in 2008 has created an organization that will advocate for better care of dementia patients.

As a tribute to her late grandmother, Deborah Hamilton started the non-profit Armeda Foundation to educate caregivers, promote nursing home accountability and connect families with agencies that can help them.

"Nobody deserves what she went through," said Hamilton, who lives in Irvine.

While Armeda Thomas was a resident at Madison Manor nursing home in 2008, her relatives hid a video camera in her room without the nursing home's knowledge after they discovered bruises all over her body and didn't get satisfactory answers from the staff.

Family members said they were told the bruises were caused by her combativeness, her frailty caused by her refusal to eat.

The videotape showed nursing assistants at Madison Manor handling Thomas roughly and failing to feed and clean her. Attorney General Jack Conway's office prosecuted three nurse's aides who have pleaded guilty to abusing and neglecting Thomas. Two received probation after being sentenced to 12 months in jail.

A third, Amanda Sallee, who was accused of eating Thomas' food and recording that Thomas ate it, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Madison Circuit Court. Sallee pleaded guilty to wanton abuse and neglect of an adult.

With the foundation, Hamilton said she hopes "to have some good come ... so that her suffering isn't for no reason."

"If somebody could have pioneered this effort before, maybe we wouldn't have had to gone through it," she said.

Thomas died in November 2008 of complications from Alzheimer's disease. Hamilton and other family members cared for her at home after discovering how she was treated at the nursing home.

The attorney general's office has said the investigation of the facility, officially known as Richmond Health and Rehabilitation Complex-Madison, continues.

Meanwhile, the foundation's Web site — Armedafoundation.org — tells Armeda Thomas' life story, including what happened to her at the nursing home. It also offers advice on what to do if anyone suspects abuse or neglect of a resident of a long-term care facility.

Hamilton said she will open an office in Irvine soon where people may get information or volunteer to help others.

"We want to be able to put information in people's hands about the disease," she said. "We want to ... put in their hands the tools they can use to empower themselves, to protect their loved ones or to seek justice."

Hamilton said she wants to partner with other agencies, including the University of Kentucky, state offices and the long-term care industry.

"We are not at odds with any particular entity," she said. "We do, though, promote and seek accountability."

Bernie Vonderheide, the founder of the advocacy group Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said he hopes to work with Hamilton. He has asked her to talk to members of his organization about the use of hidden cameras in nursing home rooms.

Hamilton said she also intends to lobby for stronger laws.

She said many nursing professionals caring for dementia patients in Kentucky do not receive specific training about the nature of Alzheimer's and other dementia-related diseases.

Kentucky law requires Alzheimer's-specific training for employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities only when the facility advertises or designates itself as providing "special care for persons with Alzheimer's disease or related disorders."

This week, Hamilton said she will make a victim's impact statement at Sallee's sentencing.

According to the attorney general's office, under terms of Sallee's plea agreement, her one-year prison sentence will be diverted for five years on the condition that she remain on good behavior, not work with vulnerable adults or children, not work in the health care industry, perform 100 hours of community service, and cooperate fully in further investigations involving Madison Manor Nursing Home.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-2397, Ext. 3409.

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