Patient dies in care of assisted living - KLFY News 10

Patient dies in care of assisted living

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A little over six months ago, a family was destroyed after learning they would have to make the sudden choice whether or not to take their son off of life support. The decision was heart-wrenching and unbearable as they found themselves searching for funeral homes.

Shawn Gauthier, suffered from severe mental and physical disabilities. At 28-years-old, the wheelchair bound man was totally dependent on the care of others, due to mental retardation, seizure disorder and cerebral palsy.

In 2009, Shawn became a client of Tison Group Home in Carencro. Happy and content in the world he knew, the young man would stay under the care of the home for five years, until his sudden death.

LEFT GASPING FOR AIR
 
When Mark and Rachel Gauthier entrusted the care of their son, Shawn, to Tison Group Home, they expected the home would be responsible for keeping him happy, healthy and alive.
 
On January 6th of 2014, Shawn was rushed to Regional Medical Center of Acadiana, after choking on a raw piece of meat, left out by Tison employee, Delynette Gotch. Shawn would never regain consciousness.
 
Mark and Rachel could not provide proper care for their son due to his special needs, but would visit him as often as possible. Two weeks after their last visit, Shawn lay alone in a hospital; his parents unaware of his condition.
 
“They had five different phone numbers that they could have called and didn’t for two days,” said Mark.
 
Sources tell News Ten it was up to Tison or ResCare Home Care administration to contact the family about a client. Mark claims by the time he found out, his son was already in a coma. He was now left with a tough decision, after learning from doctors that Shawn was brain dead.
 
“The best thing that he suggested that we do was that if we didn't want him to be a vegetable for the rest of his life was to just go ahead and unplug the machine and see what happens,” Mark tearfully explained. “I went in and looked at him in his room and he was gasping for air and I could see that he was struggling. It was very hard because I knew my son was fixing to die."
 
Shawn died on January 10th. His parents were hurt, angry and confused. How did their son, restricted to a liquid diet, choke on food? Was it as simple as leaving food unattended? Was this an act of ongoing negligence?
A MISSING LINK
 
Delynette Gotch, now a former employee, claims she and Home Manager Harlis Stewart were returning from a trip and began unloading four wheelchair bound clients from a medical transport van. On the day Shawn choked, Gotch stated she was outside, and turned to see Shawn inside of the kitchen. Remembering that she had previously left meat out on the counter, she rushed inside.
 
"By the time we got to him, he had stuck a piece of meat in his mouth. We got him out of his chair. That's when Harlis started to do the Heimlich maneuver, but it wasn’t working,” she explained.
 
According to a nutritional plan signed and dated for March 2013 by a dietitian, Shawn needed to be monitored carefully, as he is ‘will take food from others, does not chew well and is restricted to a pureed diet.’
 
Gotch confirmed, “You have to keep your eyes on this one cause he likes to steal food.”
 
The former worker said she did leave meat unattended but is not directly responsible for Shawn’s death.
 
"I can't watch anybody that's inside while I'm outside unloading the van,” she stated then added that another, unidentified employee was inside with Shawn.
 
Gotch claims the woman went to answer the phone, leaving Shawn alone and able to reach the kitchen. To date, this worker have never been located and is not mentioned in state reports or a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Shawn’s parents. If the mysterious employee does exist, she could have been missing a key piece of information involving Shawn’s care.
 
POOR DOCUMENTATION
 
Shawn was restricted by a dietitian to pureed food diet with no fried, greasy or whole foods.
 
According to “Laura”, a former employee of Tison, Shawn was known to steal food on a regular basis.
 
“Laura” explained this information was missing from a prominent piece of paperwork employees relied on.
 
"A behavior support plan tells you what to do when the consumer goes into behavior; what is the consumer known to do when he goes into behavior and what steps you are to take,” she said.
 
Shawn’s behavior support plan, dated for April of 2013, makes no mention of stealing food.
 
When asked if this missing worker, or any employee who didn’t work with Shawn on a regular basis would be aware of his behavior of swiping unattended food, Laura responded, “They would have been unaware.”
 
The Department of Health and Hospitals conducted a visit to the home in December of 2013. A representative made an observation of Shawn stealing food from another resident. Staff was warned to document his behavior as it “had the potential to affect the clients.” A media representative for DHH confirmed the facility had 60 days to comply.
 
Coincidentally, a new line was added to Shawn’s behavior support plan. “Shawn will take food and/or drinks if these items are left unattended,”the line stated. The date on the plan was changed to January 6th, 2014; the day Shawn was taken to the hospital for choking on stolen meat.
A LASPE IN ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGEMENT
 
Attorney Darrel Ryland, spent months reviewing state reports and interviewing witnesses, before preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Mark and Rachel. Rescare and parent company Normal Life of Lafayette, as well as former home manager Harlis Stewart and Delynette Gotch are now defendants in a wrongful death suit.
 
Some of the claims in the lawsuit include failure to train employees and staff, negligent supervision of employees, leaving Shawn unattended and failure to provide sufficient staff.
 
Reports show home manager Stewart asked for additional staff on several occasion, but was denied. “Laura” claimed staff members often asked for locks for kitchen doors and proper documentation of Shawn’s behavior, but the concerns were not taken seriously by administration
 
Gotch, in agreement, added, “If they wouldn't have the homes understaffed, four eyes could have been on him instead of two.”
 
“We believe the facts of the investigation will lead to one in-escapable fact. That they didn't do what they should have done,” Ryland stated.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
 
Attorneys for Tison’s parent company, ResCare and Normal Life of Lafayette could not be reached for comment. Marsha Ieromino, General Manager for Louisiana’s Western Region of ResCare stated via email, “Unfortunately, we are bound by federal and state privacy laws that prevent us from disclosing any information about the people we support. All staff are trained to respond quickly and appropriately to emergencies.
 
This leaves the family with little comfort.
Mark choked on tears and said, "I do not want this to happen to any other child. Cause I know how they are going to feel. Like me.” Since the incident, some staff quit or was fired from ResCare, including the former executive director. “Laura” left one day after her interview with News Ten. Harlis Stewart stepped down from his position. Gotch claimed she was fired for negligence but maintains that she is not responsible, but a victim of a corporation who failed to protect everyone involved.
 
“I’m sad for Shawn. I wish it wouldn’t have happened,” she said. The Gauthiers continue to pick up the pieces of their lives following Shawn’s death. Mark offered advice to anyone considering assisted living or care-takers as an option.
 
“If you have family in a nursing home or whatever, check on them often. Make sure they have locks were needed and make sure these people are looking after your loved ones."
 
DHH confirmed an investigation took place at the group home but could not share specific details. A media representative stated it was up to the facility’s administration to hold those responsible for any wrong doings. Mark and Rachel said their lawsuit is not about money, but about holding those accountable for a life that was invaluable.
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