Metro-East News

Belleville nursing home where woman died strapped to wheelchair appeals $50K fine

Sister discusses Belleville nursing home death

Loretta Jean Ulmer in March 2015 talks about her older sister, Juanita Simmons, who died March 12, 2015, after her wheelchair was found at the bottom of stairs at a Belleville nursing home. Before the death, she saw injuries and reported them.
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Loretta Jean Ulmer in March 2015 talks about her older sister, Juanita Simmons, who died March 12, 2015, after her wheelchair was found at the bottom of stairs at a Belleville nursing home. Before the death, she saw injuries and reported them.

The owners of a Belleville nursing home where a woman was found dead, strapped to a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs, are appealing a $50,000 fine imposed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for Thursday in Springfield, according to IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.

IDPH cited Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory after Juanita Simmons, 85, died on March 12, 2015. Simmons was found at the bottom of the stairs about 6:32 a.m. Video surveillance evidence showed Simmons sitting alone in the hallway and staring at a soda machine; minutes later her body was found in the stairwell.

In 2015, Juanita Simmons was found dead at the bottom of a stairway, strapped to a wheelchair.

The nursing home called for an ambulance, but did not inform law enforcement. After emergency medical personnel confirmed Simmons was dead, family members contacted a funeral home in Montgomery County, and a representative from the funeral home picked up the body.

The funeral home director at some point called the St. Clair County Coroner’s Office to ask what type of death certificate was to be issued. Coroner’s office personnel told the funeral director that they had not been notified of the death. In the case of an accidental death, the coroner’s office must sign the death certificate. Under Illinois law, the coroner is charged with investigating accidental deaths in hospitals and nursing homes.

Steve Blisko, who is the principal investor in Senior Healthcare Management in Skokie, near Chicago, operates Midwest Rehabilitation and Respiratory. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Besides Midwest Rehabilitation, formerly known as Calvin Johnson Nursing Home, Blisko operates Marion Rehab and Nursing; Herrin Rehab and Nursing; Integrity Healthcare of Smithton; Ridgeway Rehab and Nursing; Chester Rehab and Nursing; Carbondale Rehab and Nursing Center I and II; Integrity of Wood River and Columbia Nursing and Rehab, all of which have received a one-star rating, the lowest rating by Medicare.

In 2012, Aubrey Giles wandered away from Midwest Rehab and was found frozen to death in a creek. A wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Giles’ estate alleged Midwest staff failed to promptly notify police after Giles left the facility.

In 2012, Aubrey Giles wandered away from Midwest Rehab and was found frozen to death in a creek.

The nursing home filed a plan of correction in response to an IDPH inspection a week after Simmons’ death. As part of that plan, nursing home personnel were to keep doors to stairwells closed and turn up the alarm on the stairwell door.

“The alarm on the stairwell door is set to ‘instant.’ The instant setting for this particular alarm requires a key code entry to silent the alarm. The alarm will continue sounding even after the door shuts until someone keys in the shut-off code,” the plan stated.

In addition, the facility agreed to:

▪  Outfit patients at risk to wander with alarms.

▪  Train staff on elopement policies.

▪  Reassess residents to determine if they are at-risk to wander.

▪  Have its administrator conduct random observation on stairwell doors and alarms and conduct weekly checks on exterior doors.

The plan was completed on April 15.

Loretta Jean Ulmer, a sister of Simmons, said she called the state’s nursing home hot line at least 10 times to report suspicions about Simmons being abused. The state keeps those calls confidential and would not confirm there were calls about Simmons.

State inspection reports noted violence between residents that included kicking, hitting and, in one incident, a resident pulling another resident out of a wheelchair, causing a fractured shoulder. State reports also stated residents said there wasn’t enough staff to properly administer care, with there being only four nurse’s aides to provide care for up to 180 patients.

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