Family sues Austin nursing home in worker’s death

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The family of Maurice Dotson, a nursing assistant who died of COVID-19 on April 17, has filed a lawsuit against the Austin nursing home where he was employed.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in Travis County on Wednesday, claims that Regency Integrated Health Services, which owns and operates West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, failed to provide proper protections for workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

The lawsuit states: “Sadly, Regency put profits over the safety of its patients and staff by failing to provide personal protective equipment (“PPE”) during the COVID-19 pandemic. By failing to provide masks and other PPE, Regency unnecessarily exposed its patients and staff to unreasonable risks of serious harm causing Mr. Dotson’s untimely death.”

Lawyers for Dotson’s family said Dotson was a loyal employee, who never stopped serving the residents in the home and refused to abandon them.

“He treated them with respect and dignity, and then his employer didn’t give him that in return,” Attorney & Registered Nurse Kathleen Kearney said.

MORE: ‘He gave his life’: Friends remember nursing assistant’s dedication, despite COVID-19 risks

She pointed to changes in federal guidelines in mid-March regarding PPE and said around that time, Dotson was caring for sick residents. She then emphasized a portion of the lawsuit that states, “On about March 26, 2020, Texas Health and Human Services conducted a surprise inspection of West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Defendant was cited for several PPE violations.”

Her co-counsel in the case, Quentin Brogdon, said they are fighting to hold the company accountable for not acting sooner.

“We knew this was upon us, this epidemic and pandemic. There were basic steps that should have been taken and weren’t taken,” Brogdon said. “It is inexcusable that West Oaks let weeks go by without providing PPE to the staff and to residents.”

West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (KXAN/Tim Holcomb)

Dotson became ill and sought medical attention at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center on April 3. He was discharged, but his health continued to decline and he was readmitted on April 8, the lawsuit states.

Dotson “died of COVID-19 pneumonia on April 17, 2020, without any friends or family allowed at his bedside due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions in effect at hospitals,” according to the lawsuit.

Kearney said Dotson’s family was heartbroken they couldn’t be by his side.

The family’s attorneys have requested a jury trial, and the lawsuit states they are seeking more than $1,000,000 in monetary relief.

In a statement, Regency said it would not comment on pending litigation issues, and, as of Wednesday afternoon, the company was unaware of the lawsuit.

Regency is one of the largest nursing home operators in the state, with 57 facilities in Texas.

Regency previously confirmed three of its other locations in Central Texas have had confirmed cases of the virus, as well.

A former co-worker told KXAN Dotson was dedicated to the residents he served, in spite of the risk as COVID-19 spread.

“He loved them with everything that he had,” Dina Mata said. “He could have chosen to call in sick or do what everybody else might be doing. But no, he didn’t. He had a job to do.”

The lawyers maintain that the company should have done more to mitigate the risk Dotson faced.

“His employer should have had his back,” Kearney said.

Nursing home crisis

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Texas, and the nation, have seen a surge of COVID-19 cases. Nearly a quarter of the 1,220 nursing homes in the state have reported at least one case of the virus among staff or residents, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

HHSC updates nursing home and assisted living facility case numbers and deaths regularly. The following statistics were provided Wednesday.

  • Texas Nursing Homes
    • 294 with at least one case
    • 24% of all sites statewide
    • 447 deaths statewide
  • Texas Assisted Living Facilities
    • 105 with at least one case
    • 5.2% of all sites statewide
    • 95 deaths statewide

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