LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A local woman says the level of neglect her brother suffered at a facility was inhuman and almost killed him.
"Everybody that sees the pictures... They're mortified," said Theresa Bigay. And is not wrong. The pictures of her brother Henry's bedsores are hard to look at.
"What do those pictures say?" Darcy Spears asked.
"Neglect! What else could it say?" Bigay answered.
Bigay says she tried her best to be there for Henry, to help care and advocate for him as he recovered from a stroke.
Now the images are seared into her mind.
"It was horrible. Nobody should have to live in those conditions whatsoever! Nobody!" Bigay said.
Henry’s a survivor. He was in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. Then he moved back here to Las Vegas and lived through a vicious attack.
"His apartment was broken into and they sliced his throat from ear to ear," Bigay recalls. "They didn't get his jugular. He's a fighter. My brother's a fighter. He made it through. But he ended up having a mini-stroke."
That's how he ended up at Life Care on Harmon and Eastern avenues in March of 2019.
"I would go twice a day--on my lunch break and after work--and I would feed him," said Bigay.
Then she says she spotted the warning signs.
"I would find him and he'd be covered in feces. And it would be dried. You could tell it's not like it just happened," said Bigay.
Henry's lawsuit against Life Care lays out a timeline of alleged neglect. It says Bigay would regularly visit and complain to staff.
"I can voice my concern but it was like, it fell on deaf ears," said Bigay.
The suit accuses failures in care like placing his water out of reach, not helping him eat or drink, leaving his food and juice out for several days to spoil, and failing to change his wet and soiled diapers.
About three weeks after Henry got to Life Care, the lawsuit says staff tried to discharge him, claiming he was fit to return home "Because he was able to feed and dress himself."
Bigay says it was retaliation for her complaints.
"I said 'Okay, now I want the physical therapy people to come into the room and show me! Take my brother. I want him to dress himself in front of me.' And I had my camera. I was filming. He couldn't do it," she said.
In her video, Henry tries to button his own shirt, but can't.
Life Care did not end up discharging Henry.
Theresa didn’t stop worrying.
"My heart genuinely went out to my brother. And I was like, he's not going to die. I'm not going to let him die!" she said.
Bigay continued to watch over him and document his conditions.
On March 28, 2019, "It was lunchtime and I came into the dining room and low and behold he's laying on the ground. And I got the camera out and I started filming. 'You don't need to film this,' the administrator said. And I said, 'Yes I do, honey.'"
"In the way we've framed our lawsuit, this goes beyond just neglect," said Michael Nixon, one of Henry's attorneys.
"When Henry was there, he was able to speak. And within a number of months, he was no longer able to speak. And there's been no explanation as to why that is. There's been no medical documentation that we've been shown so far to explain this dramatic change in who Henry Owens is as a person."
Medical records referenced in the lawsuit show Henry suffered numerous urinary tract infections due to being left for hours in soaking diapers and sheets.
He was sent to the hospital for treatment of those infections multiple times, as well as for severe dehydration, MRSA and sepsis.
"It's alarming!" said Nixon. "Because you would expect someone to step in the way before it gets to this point. Not someone like an attorney, but someone like a care provider, a nurse, a staff member, a doctor. Somebody to get there and say 'Hey, this is not right and we're going to take care of this because that's our job!'"
Bigay's daily visits ended earlier this year when coronavirus hit and Las Vegas went on lockdown.
She says based on the care she saw when she could visit Henry, she was terrified and distraught over what might happen when she couldn't visit.
"The last time I'd seen him was around March. And then May, they told me he got COVID," said Bigay.
She had Life Care send Henry to Desert Springs Hospital, where staff discovered the devastating bed sores and took the graphic photos.
The wounds were so severe, Henry had to have one of his toes amputated.
Life Care Center of South Las Vegas Executive Director Scott Langevin said over the phone that he's well aware of the lawsuit, but that Life Care is not worried about it. He said the family is making a stir but claims the facility did nothing wrong.
He then referred us to their corporate public relations team in Tennessee, who sent this statement:
"At Life Care Center of South Las Vegas, residents are our highest priority, and associates are our most valuable resource. We have recently been made aware of a lawsuit filed against our facility regarding the care of a resident. Due to the pending legal action and HIPAA, we cannot provide specific information on this matter. While this case is pending, we will continue to focus on providing quality and compassionate care to our residents."
In Life Care's answer filed in court, "They either say they don't have enough information to answer our allegations or they flat out deny every allegation we've made," Nixon explained.
Henry's is just the latest in a string of lawsuits against Life Care in Clark County.
"They have been sued more than 20 times for cases like this in the past," said Nixon.
Some are still open, some dismissed and some settled out of court for undisclosed amounts of money.
Life Care Centers of America is the nation's largest private nursing home chain.
The Nursing Home Law Center says it's among the largest private companies in the US with annual revenue of $3.1 billion.
Life Care has also paid up in the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. Department of Justice history.
In 2016, Life Care and its billionaire owner Forrest Preston agreed to pay $145 million to resolve a government lawsuit.
The feds accused Life Care of submitting false claims for rehabilitation services to Medicare and Tricare as part of a "fraudulent scheme" to "unjustly enrich" its owner.
"That concerns us because now we think that Life Care Centers may be so profit-oriented that it's doing things that are more in the interest of its one and only shareholder as opposed to the individuals like Henry Owens who come in to be cared for," said Eric Roy, Henry's other lawyer.
Henry is no longer at Life Care. Bigay. moved him to a new facility after his hospital stay in May.
About a week ago, she was able to visit with him through a window for the first time since the pandemic hit.
In her recording of the visit, she tells her brother, "I miss you so much! I can’t come in because of this virus thing, Hank. I can’t come in. I’m sorry but they won’t let anybody in... I love you. I love you. I love you."
In March, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its National Nursing Home Initiative, which will target "grossly substandard care" in nursing homes.
Negligent owners and operators could face both criminal and civil penalties.
If you or a loved one in a nursing home needs help/advocacy, click here for the Nevada Long Term Care Ombudsman. You may also file a complaint by calling 1-888-729-0571 or through a contact form provided by Nevada Care Connection.