WKYC reported the horrific death of James Dempsey, a decorated World War II veteran from Woodstock, Georgia. An 11Alive investigation uncovered hidden camera video catching nursing home staff laughing while an elderly patient dies in front of them. The video was recently released as part of a lawsuit filed by the family. Hidden cameras are an important way to prevent abuse and neglect and to prevent cover-ups like this one.
The incident happened at the Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation owned and operated by the national for-profit chain, SavaSeniorCare. Attorneys representing SavaSeniorCare tried to prevent 11Alive from obtaining the video. They asked a DeKalb County judge to keep the video sealed and then attempted to appeal to the Georgia State Supreme Court. The judge ruled in favor of 11Alive and the nursing home eventually dropped its appeal to the state’s highest court.
Watch the extended deposition here where her story changes after watching the hidden video.
The video includes almost six hours of video court deposition from a nursing supervisor explaining how she responded to the patient before she knew the hidden camera video existed. The video shows a completely different response. SavaSeniorCare was made aware of the video in November 2015, but the nursing home did not fire the nurses until 10 months later.
In the video deposition, former nursing supervisor Wanda Nuckles tells the family’s attorney, Mike Prieto, how she rushed to Dempsey’s room when a nurse alerted her he had stopped breathing.
Prieto: “From the time you came in, you took over doing chest compressions…correct?”
Nuckles : “Yes.”
Prieto: “Until the time paramedics arrive, you were giving CPR continuously?”
Nuckles : “Yes.”
The video, however, shows no one doing CPR when Nuckles entered the room. She also did not immediately start doing CPR. The video shows the veteran calling for help six times before he goes unconscious while gasping for air. State records show nursing home staff found Dempsey unresponsive at 5:28 am. It took almost an hour for the staff to call 911 at 6:25 a.m.
When a different nurse does respond, she fails to check any of his vital signs. Nuckles says she would have reprimanded the nurse for the way she responded to Dempsey. She called the video “sick.” When nurses had difficulty getting Dempsey’s oxygen machine operational during, you can hear Nuckles and others laughing.
Prieto: “Ma’am, was there something funny that was happening?”
Nuckles : “I can’t even remember all that as you can see.”
11Alive showed the video to Elaine Harris, a retired nursing professor and expert in adult critical care. “In 43 years in nursing, I have never seen such disregard for human life in a healthcare setting, is what I witnessed,” said Harris.
In the video, nursing staff repeatedly start and stop doing CPR on Dempsey. Harris says once you start doing CPR, it should not be stopped until a doctor makes the decision not to resuscitate. “That is absolutely inappropriate. You never stop compressions,” said Harris.
The nursing home operators, owned by Sava Senior Care, declined interview requests.
State health inspection records show Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation continued to have a history of problems after Dempsey’s death. Medicare records show the nursing home facility was cited at least two dozen times for serious health and safety violations, including “immediate jeopardy” levels, the worst violation. Medicare withdrew one payment and the facility has been fined $813,113 since 2015. The facility has a one-star rating from Medicare, the lowest score the agency can give. The nursing facility remains open today.