Special Reports

Attorney General asks 'medical expert' to review nursing home injury case

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's staff is asking "a medical expert" to review the case of a Lexington nursing home resident who was found severely injured last year in a room that stored equipment.

The move came after Scott Owens, an attorney who represents Irene Hendrix, 89, in a lawsuit, asked Conway's office to reopen the investigation of her unexplained injuries at Lexington's Cambridge Place Nursing Home.

Although a review is under way, the case has not been reopened, said Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for Conway.

"We have referred some materials to a medical expert for review," Martin said. "Once the report is received from that expert, we will determine whether or not to open a criminal investigation."

The Herald-Leader reported on Aug. 21 that nursing home staff told investigators that Hendrix fell in January 2009 after she went missing while moving up and down the hall in a Merry Walker, a type of walker that includes a seat.

Reports from the attorney general's office and two divisions of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services about the case contain discrepancies and reach no conclusion about what caused her injuries.

Bones in Hendrix's face were broken, there was bleeding in her brain, and she had a 4-centimeter cut on her forehead, a cut on her lip and a swollen eye, according to state documents. Hendrix, who has Alzheimer's disease, was in a hospital for three weeks and nearly died, her daughter has said.

A state adult protection worker determined that Hendrix was a victim of caretaker neglect and had been exposed to an extreme safety risk. The protection worker told the attorney general's office that she thought Hendrix's injuries were the result of an accident.

Officials in the attorney general's office conducted a preliminary investigation and found no evidence of a criminal act.

Owens, Hendrix's attorney, told the attorney general's office that the case called for more investigation, suggesting that Hendrix's injuries could have been the result of an assault.

In the adult protection worker's report, the room where Hendrix was found was described as "an area with storage equipment." The attorney general's investigator said it was a physical-therapy room "set up similar to a residential room." Investigators with the Office of Inspector General, which inspects nursing homes and investigates complaints about them, said it was "an empty resident's room."

Reports about other aspects of the case also differed. The adult protection worker's report said one theory was that Hendrix got the rooms confused and fell over a wheelchair.

Investigators from the Office of the Inspector General said the nurse's aide who reported finding Hendrix said the side of her face was "to the floor" and she was still in the Merry Walker.

Nursing home staffers told the attorney general's investigator that they thought Hendrix's walker caught the door frame or a raised threshold, causing her to land on her face and the walker to fall on top of her.

On Monday, Hendrix's daughter Mary Gullette said having the medical expert review the case was "a good thing."

"Maybe we can come up with a reason for the incident," said Gullette, who has moved her mother from Cambridge Place.

Martin declined to say what information the medical expert would be reviewing.

"Due to prosecutorial ethics, we are prohibited from providing additional information about a specific case," she said.

Even if investigators determine that Hendrix's injuries were the result of an accident, there are "questions about the behavior of the nursing home staff regarding how they reported the incident and evidence related to the incident," Owens said.

Owens said similar infractions at other nursing homes have resulted in a state Type A citation, which is given when a resident is put in imminent danger or faces substantial risk of death or serious mental or physical harm.

Cambridge Place officials, in a court filing, have denied any negligence.