Former nursing home resident with ALS says patients are mocked, treated rudely

Updated: Sep. 17, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A terminally ill woman spent her time at a Richmond nursing home speaking out, wanting to share her story in hopes of helping others.

Debra Beeler was a resident at Bonview Rehabilitation and Healthcare on Forest Hill Avenue in Richmond.

This former resident says patients are mocked, treated rudely, and the staff stressed out and at a breaking point. On Your Side Investigator, Diane Walker started looking into complaints about Bonview last year after several patients and families began calling NBC12 for help.

Bonview’s parent company, Consulate Healthcare, isn’t commenting on Walker’s story and says it’s focused on keeping residents safe and protected during the pandemic. But they did allow Walker inside to speak with patient Debra Beeler.

Walker had to improvise because of restrictions Bonview required she follow.

No one wants to be helpless, but the terminal disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - or ALS - makes you helpless.

“She was filling the fork and then putting it in my mouth. Then ready with another one .... But, I have to chew and swallow,” Beeler said.

No one wants to be frail and forced to rely upon unkind medical professionals but Debra Beeler says some of the staff some of the time at Bonview didn’t treat her right.

“I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take her anger. I couldn’t take the aggressiveness in which she was feeding me,” Beeler said.

Debra first told Walker about her grievances in June 2019, and now her primary complaint is part of a government investigation. She’s Resident #7 in a Medicare-Medicaid inspection. Residents are entitled to reasonable accommodations and the state found that Bonview “failed to accommodate Debra’s need of mechanical lift assistance with transfers.” In other words, the sit-to-stand equipment she desperately needs often doesn’t have batteries and doesn’t work or the staff can’t find it.

“One woman told me if I sat up in the bed, I could eat in the bed...I have ALS and eating in the bed is a choking hazard...I need to be more than sitting up to eat. I need to swallow bent over, and I can’t do it in the bed with a tray in front of me," Beeler said.

When sit-to-stand equipment is available, Debra says overworked staff are either in a hurry or don’t truly understand how ALS destroys muscles needed to move, eat, speak and breathe.

“They’re disrespectful...She hurt my arm on the sit-to-stand. She pulled it out, and so I screamed. She had another woman in the room. She apologized to the other woman, for me screaming. She said, ‘I’m sorry something always happens when you come in here to help her.’ Not, ‘Ms. Beeler, I’m sorry I yanked your arm.’ Wow,” Beeler said.

Bonview’s former Executive Director, John Bernadyn, initially blocked Walker’s attempts to talk with her in person.

“I want to go up to Debra’s room. She invited us up,” Walker said

“I will reach out to our PR person but you do need to exit the property. It’s private property,” Bernadyn said.

Consulate Healthcare kept Walker out of Debra’s room but did provide space in a conference room with a restriction. NBC12′s camera was not allowed so Walker improvised as Debra explained why her days were painfully challenging.

In the state’s report, it also notes other residents could be affected by not having the use of sit-to-stand equipment. Staff was re-educated on giving support care.

"If there’s one person dressing you. She’s not tender. OK. You can probably hang with that. But if there are two of them and they have the mindset of they do whatever they want to the patient. They can really rough you up, and when you’re trying to get dressed, say one is trying to put deodorant under your arms...and the other one is trying to put a shoe on you in a way that is not kind. You are just at their mercy,” Beeler said.

A check of - the official government website for Medicare – Nursing Home Compare Bonview has been cited for abuse. The icon – a hand in a circle of red – is placed next to names of nursing homes that have been cited for potential issues related to abuse. This status may be unrelated to Debra’s complaint but it shows Bonview’s overall rating “much below average” with one out of five stars.

Debra was discharged from Bonview on June 28, 2019, according to the state’s report, a few weeks after Walker and Beeler spoke in person. So, the unannounced Medicare-Medicaid inspection was conducted four months after Debra had left Bonview. Her life expectancy then was two years, eight months.

“You only have a short time left here. Well, I kind of wish it was shorter. Really? Why? It’s not going to be pretty...I will be able to see. I will be able to hear. There will be a machine on the outside breathing for me and I won’t be able to eat,” Beeler said.

While Debra fought for change.

“They should be nice to people; They should have supplies. They’re getting money. It’s not like this is a charitable organization. They’re getting money,” Beeler said.

She also spoke about her worst fear: Things staying the same after she’s gone.

“Whew. Sorry. That’s OK. That’s OK. That’s what I want too. I want it better when I leave than when I got here,” Beeler said.

It’s unclear what happened to Debra Beeler after she was discharged. She has a close friend who helped her through a lot. Walker reached out several times to her friend but hasn’t heard back.

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