Woman says Richmond nursing home ignored mother’s plea for help

Updated: Sep. 15, 2020 at 6:50 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A year after her mom’s funeral, a Chesterfield woman still has no peace. She’s speaking out about the care her mom received at a nursing home that she believes led to her death.

On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker looked into Joanna Heiskill’s complaints against Bonview Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Richmond.

Bonview is part of the Florida-based “Consulate Healthcare” chain. The parent company says it’s “not at liberty to discuss matters related to patients” and says they’re “focused on keeping residents safe and protected during the pandemic.”

Walker started showing up at Bonview last year when several people there told her they reported problems but can’t get anyone there to take action. So, Walker started documenting what she could. And now, Walker finally has the results of a Medicare-Medicaid investigation into the facility.

Joanna Heiskill chose Bonview believing her aging mom would get critical 24/7 care at the skilled nursing home that she couldn’t provide at home.

“They have bloods on their hands. They have blood on their hands because they ignored not only my pleas...they ignored her,” Heiskill said.

Merlene Cartwright died Aug. 22, 2019, at Chippenham Hospital. Her daughter describes a harrowing two weeks before her mom stopped breathing. She says it started weeks earlier with labored breathing and became dire at a doctor’s visit on Aug. 11, 2019.

“The doctor wanted her to have a C-Pap machine at night to help her with her breathing. That would of course put less stress on her heart. She had a number of other things on the order. None of that was done,” Heiskill said.

Later that night, Joanna says she called to check on her mom but the phone on the second floor just rang. So, Joanna says she called the first floor and a nurse rode the elevator up to the second floor and got someone to answer the phone. She says her mom had oxygen but not a C-Pap machine. Joanna called again the next morning.

“The nurse said to me, ‘Oh, She’s fine I just gave her medicine.’ I said, ‘No, she’s not fine. She’s having shortness of breath.’ ‘Well, she didn’t sound short of breath to me.’ And we got into it,” Heiskill said.

Joanna says her mom was being rushed to the hospital on the next phone call.

“Her heart rate was at 34 when she came in. I requested the ER records. I have them...Why didn’t they know that? Why would the nurse say, ‘Oh she’s fine. I just gave her medicine,’ and she’s sitting in the wheelchair getting ready to pass away.”

The death certificate lists acute hypoxic respiratory failure or low blood oxygen levels and aspiration pneumonia as the cause of death. She had several chronic illnesses including congestive heart failure, epilepsy and dementia.

“They did not pay any attention to her and the actual incident that put her in the hospital was evident of that,” Heiskill said.

She says she filed complaints with the state, Bonview and its owner Consulate Healthcare, about her mom’s care and treatment.

“Because of her condition, exercise was extra important, helping her maintain not only a good heart but she had Parkinson’s and everybody knows if you have Parkinson, movement is good. Exercise is the best medicine. She wasn’t getting that,” Heiskill said.

Something else she wasn’t getting, Joanna says, was her pain medication on time. Joanna says she saved an emotional voice message from her mom weeping.

“Ooooh, Jo Jo. Why they (inaudible) medicine. I told them but they did nothing about it. Ooooh My. (crying) OOOh. See if you can get somebody to help me, please. Oooh, Jo Jo. (crying)."

The 86-year-old born in Nassau, Bahamas was the first of nine siblings to pass - the soul of the family says Joanna - died in hospice never returning to Bonview. The family did return and was horrified by what they saw.

“They cleared out her room and had somebody else in there that quickly and my mom’s name was still on the door. This was before she passed,” Heiskill said.

“My son was livid. They didn’t have her wheelchair there. I bought her a heavy-duty wheelchair that wasn’t there. He had to tell them this patient that you have in there is watching the tv that I put there. My son bought that for my mom,” Heiskill said.

The Executive Director, who ordered Walker off the property last year as she followed up on some of Joanna’s complaints, no longer works at Bonview.

Soon after that interaction, Walker received an anonymous mailing with her photo and a caption alerting patients seeing this bulletin to be on the lookout and not allow media in the building.

“This particular management has made it clear that he has no intentions of communicating or dealing with family members who have legitimate concerns,” Heiskill said.

Executive Director John Bernadyn’s tenure ended around the same time that an unannounced Medicare-Medicaid investigation was conducted. Joanna eventually got a letter from the State Office of Licensure and Certification stating that violations were found and her allegations “substantiated.”

But here’s the kicker, Walker discovered digging through the document, the state did not address in the report, Joanna’s searing complaint alleging neglect of her mom. But her mom “is” mentioned in the report. Resident #3 is Merlene Cartwright. The state found that Bonview misappropriated Merlene’s money - applying through Social Security for control of her funds without permission. It corrected the money-handling violations. Joanna wasn’t happy when Walker told her.

“This system here in Virginia is heartless when it comes to senior citizens. It’s heartless. It’s deplorable and there’s nobody doing anything about it. Nobody wants to talk about it. I tried contacting the Governor’s office three times. No response,” Heiskill said.

“She had stitches in her leg that nobody can tell me how it got there,” Heiskill said.

Joanna hopes her heartbreak is a beacon that gets others talking about defenseless seniors in long-term care facilities.

“My mom was a believer and so am I. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe we have eternal life through him. But, it doesn’t make me feel good knowing one that people can get away with this. The system is so broken and so wrong,” Heiskill said.

“This is the hard part. I do think she suffered and I bear some responsibility for that because I put her there because of her illness thinking she would get better care,” Heiskill said.

Joanna says it’s bigger than her mom and she vows to use her voice from here on out to shake up the complacency around senior care in nursing homes.

On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker continues her look into the allegations against Bonview Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Richmond tonight on NBC12 News at 6.

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