I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: This family believed their sister was getting the best care at PruittHealth. So how did she die from a bed sore?

Laura Bulloch, here surrounded by her family, was admitted to a PruittHealth facility in 2017....
Laura Bulloch, here surrounded by her family, was admitted to a PruittHealth facility in 2017. (Source: Robinson Family)(WRDW)
Published: May. 6, 2019 at 12:36 PM EDT
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Monday, May 6, 2019

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A family was horrified when they turned their sister's body over and saw bone. We debated showing the pictures, but the family of Laura Bulloch wants the public to see how their sister died. They believe lack of care at a nursing home lead to a stage four pressure and ultimately her death.

Our I-Team found at least a dozen other families claiming their loved ones suffered similar injuries and deaths within other local PruittHealth facilities.

The Robinson family's roots grow as deep as their bond.

"There are ten of us. Every holiday we would get together," sister Mary McClain said.

Laura Bulloch was the baby of the bunch and the life of the party.

"Girl, when we would get together she liked to dance,” McClain said. “She loved to dance and have a good time. I miss that.”

McClain cared for her younger sister after diabetes robbed her of her legs. A stroke later stole Bulloch's speech.

McClain trusted Pruitthealth would give her sister better care than she could.

"I said, ‘I want the best for my sister,’" McClain said. Her younger sister was admitted into PruittHealth Augusta. In 2017, Bulloch moved to the sister facility, PruittHealth Augusta Hills.

PruittHealth Augusta Hills:

But Bulloch died on Feb. 23, 2019. Bulloch's death certificate states she died from cardiac arrest due to sepsis caused by a stage four sacral decubitus infection which was acute and chronic -- a bed sore.

"My sister was suffering,” McClain said as she wept. “She was suffering, and I don't know how long. We turned her over and pulled that thing down and that big old hole was right there! That big old hole was right there! We couldn't believe it that big old hole was right there.”

"I went and found a CNA and said, ‘What's that odor? ‘They never said anything about the bed sore. She said she had just changed her and there was a bottle of perfume in there where they had sprayed.”

McClain visited her sister every week. The trauma was made worse by the fact that Bulloch’s stroke rendered her incapable of speaking, making McClain wonder how much her sister suffered in relative silence.

"She couldn't tell me anything! She couldn't tell me she was in pain! She couldn't tell me," she sobbed. "She couldn't tell me and those people are just walking around."

According to another lawsuit,

when she was a patient at PruittHealth Augusta Hills. The lawsuit alleges

at the facility ended up “contributing to and hastening Ms. Dent's untimely death."

How could this have happened? The Dent lawsuit blames several factors.

"Operational, budgetary, and administrative decisions that were determined more by the financial needs and goals than by [the] nursing needs of residents deprived residents pressure relief from skin breakdown,” the suit said. “The same dangerous conditions are occurring at other and had occurred within Pruitt facilities."

PruittHealth Augusta:

Our I-Team found where two families filed lawsuits against the sister facility, PruittHealth Augusta.

One of those lawsuits alleges a man suffered “catastrophic injury” and “extreme pain” as a result of a bed sore.

"The pressure sore to [the victim’s] sacrum worsened significantly to an infected stage four pressure sore during the course of his residency,” the suit said.

The family of another resident,

, alleges similar issues in the other lawsuit, saying “systemic staffing problems” lead to the "failure to adequately and timely treat the development and progression of pressure sores and infection."

"When corporate [failed] to provide sufficient resources to hire staff, those present must take shortcuts,” the suit said.

The lawsuit also states Lyons suffered "extreme pain" which was "beyond the normal aging process."

PruittHealth North Augusta:

Across the river, another lawsuit alleges that "staffing problems" at the North Augusta location lead to "the painful horrific death of

That lawsuit also alleges "staff allowed Blocker to develop preventable injuries including a stage four sore which became infected."

PruittHealth Aiken:

Pruitt recently has agreed to pay $315,000 to the family of

Aiken and North Augusta:

Our I-Team found found nine lawsuits over the last five years alleging staffing shortages and/or lack of training lead to infected pressure sores at the two Pruitt facilities in Aiken County. Eight of the nine patients have since died.

"Unfortunately, I am used to seeing them but these injuries that these people are permitted to sustain in these environments is shocking and it takes folks like you to bring this abuse to light," attorney Caleb Connor said.

Connor represents the family of Ruby Mae Dent. The lawsuit is currently in arbitration.

"Some areas it's more prevalent, and unfortunately, Augusta seems to be an area where there is rampant abuse and neglect at certain facilities."

It’s that alleged neglect that’s bringing the Robinson family and Mary McClain forward.

"My sister died from that there that big hole right there," McClain wept as she pointed to a picture of the gaping hole on her sister's body. "If you got peoples in the nursing home, please check your family members, please! You never know what's going on.”

Laura Bulloch was the last to be born into the Robinson family. But she was the first to leave at age 56.

PruittHealth did not respond to our I-Team's calls or e-mails, but they filed answers in a number of the lawsuits. Among other things, they have denied that they violated the legal standard of care of their patients.

The federal government is checking on your family members inside the Pruitt facilities. Medicare and Medicaid know there's is a problem in the facilities, too. The question is why is the government continuing to pay Pruitt? Our I-Team's series Painfully Staffed continues on Thursday.

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