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Family wants care facility to 'close the doors', claims it killed their brother

“I feel so sorry for these people... I used to watch them in the hallway screaming ‘help me,'" family says of Kent Co. care facility.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — More allegations of neglect against a Kent County long-term care facility have surfaced.

Claims of preventable amputations, residents being dropped and ignored for hours as detailed in a series of reports by the 13 Help Team had, at the time of publication, already prompted investigations.

Since the first such report aired last month, more than a dozen residents or loved ones have reached out regarding conditions inside the SKLD facility on the East Beltline.

Most recently, family members claimed alleged negligence on the part of staff led to a resident’s death.

Betsy Curtis, in a letter mailed to 13 ON YOUR SIDE, suggested the care her late husband, Fred Curtis, received at SKLD accounted for his ‘worst ever’ experience. Curtis, she said, had passed away in hospice care several days after his discharge from the East Beltline campus.

Stephen Gilbreath’s family too, described a feeling of powerlessness to help their loved one, even as he wasted away last year.

“We feel kind of guilty,” Stephen’s sister, Linda McIntosh related. “It hurts because we wanted him to be moved. We got him moved. But now we feel like we did the wrong thing.”

For McIntosh, there’s no escaping those feelings. They well-up whenever her thoughts turn to her brother’s last days alive or the place, she believes, that caused his death.

“If they don't get them out of there, they're going to go through the same thing we went through: burying my loved one.”

Stephen Gilbreath loved riding his bike anywhere he could. Her was, McIntosh said, a social guy usually pictured smiling.

“He loved to be out,” she said. “Loved to be out.”

Until one day, when the family noticed a change.

“Something’s not right here,” McIntosh said. “Then they had him in the hospital and they diagnosed it.”

The diagnosis was dementia.

Stephen would need round the clock care. He was eventually moved to a facility in Greenville.

“It was just too hard to get back and forth up there to see him like we wanted to,” she related.

It was one of her brother’s caregivers there, McIntosh said, that told them about an alternative that would cut down on the driving distance.

“They had the opening, and they were able to get him in,” she recalled.

The SKLD campus on East Beltline, after all, was only a few miles away and came recommended.

“He's going to be in good hands like he was in Greenville,” McIntosh paused. “Wrong.”

Because on day one of Stephen’s would-be fresh start…

“That’s when the red light went up in our head,” she related. “He was in his wheelchair. He fell out. Head-first.”

The ordeal, Stephen’s family said, led to a headwound, a hospitalization and a surgery.  

SKLD administrators, McIntosh noted, later said no to physical therapy. Rapidly, the man his sister described as ‘always on the move’ began to decline.

“He couldn't do nothing for himself,” McIntosh recalled. “He couldn't feed himself. He couldn't walk. He couldn't do nothing.”

Living in a room, she said, that was, at one point, allegedly infested with bugs. With nothing to wear either after someone apparently cleaned Stephen’s new clothes out of the closet in his room.

“We would go back and forth unexpectedly because we didn't feel good about it,” she related. “We wanted to get him out of there, but dementia patients are very hard to get in another facility. So we was stuck.”

If the family was concerned by what they’d seen up to that point, the feeling would only become more profound.

During one of their frequent visits, McIntosh said she found her brother lying in bed with only a shirt on.

“And he’s full of poop,” she recalled.

“Just laying there,” I questioned.

“Just laying there,” she replied. “He’s saying, help me, help me.”

Later in his stay there, McIntosh said they found open bedsores staff had never treated either.

Someone, she pointed-out did allegedly have the time to move the call bell beside Stephen’s bed, she believes, so he could no longer ask for help, which at that stage, Stephen needed even to take a sip of water.

“It's like they were not giving him any at all because he had gotten so dehydrated,” she sighed. “To see him go from this nice-sized guy and he was talking to us and laughing…. when he got down here, all of the sudden, everything just went away. Went away.”

His cherished mobility, his dignity and, as Stephen’s family would come to learn, the health he had left.

“The doctor came in and told me, well I know you guys said that you wanted to keep him comfortable and you're doing the right thing because your brother is in bad shape,” McIntosh related the details of a conversation with Stephen’s doctor during a hospitalization. “He has really been treated wrong and I'm very sorry for that.”

Dehydrated and wracked with infection, in the end, there was nothing to be done save keep him company. McIntosh related her final words to her brother at his bedside.

“I says all right I'll say you go go with mom now,” she cried. “You don't have to sit here and fight. You don't have to do that no more and all of the sudden, he took his breath. His last breath. It was over.”

Stephen’s death certificate showed the 68-year-old died of sepsis and a treatable urinary tract infection.  

13 ON YOUR SIDE has been in contact with SKLD’s parent company, Illuminate HC as part of our first two published reports delving into the conditions alleged inside the facility on East Beltline.

We sent another email asking for clarity with regard to Stephen’s situation. We received the following statement in response:

“It is our policy to provide professional care and services in an environment that is free from abuse/neglect. The facility adheres to the federal guidelines dedicated to preventing abuse/neglect. SKLD Beltline reports all allegations of abuse/neglect following the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) guidelines; hence appropriate State Agencies have been promptly notified to initiate their investigations in addition to the facility’s separate investigations. Due to privacy concerns, we can’t elaborate further on our internal investigations or the final findings by the State Agencies. SKLD strives to provide exceptional care to all our residents and is grateful to the frontline heroes who provide care day in and day out and make it possible.”

“What would you like to see to see happen here,” I asked McIntosh.

“Closed,” she responded. “Close the doors!”

The family made the decision to share its grief, McIntosh explained, in hopes of sparing another family the pain they endured.

“I feel so sorry for these people,” she broke down. “I used to watch them in the hallway screaming ‘help me’… we can’t save [my brother]. Maybe we can save some of these other people.”

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