I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: This family claims medical neglect helped kill their sister, but how did this case escape a law enforcement probe?

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Monday, May 13, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

Laura Bulloch, here surrounded by her family, was admitted to a PruittHealth facility in 2017. (Source: Robinson Family)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Laura Bulloch was a mother, a grandmother, and a fun-loving sister. Her family remembers the good days of the 57-year-old woman.

But it’s the final images of Bulloch that remain stuck in their minds.

“We turned her over and pulled that thing down and that big ol’ hole was right there,” Bulloch’s sister, Mary McClain said.

That big hole was a stage four pressure sore, and according to medical records, it led to Bulloch’s death.

Bulloch was a patient at PruittHealth Augusta Hills.Her family believes sepsis and the sore was caused by neglect.

“My sister was suffering,” McClain said. “She was suffering, and I don’t know how long.”

Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen was not called to investigate Bulloch’s death. On her death certificate, it lists Bulloch’s death as caused by sepsis. However, her death is listed as “natural.”

Because of that, Bowen would not have to investigate Bulloch’s death. State law requires coroners to investigate "suspicious" and "unusual" deaths but Bulloch's cause of death is listed as natural because she died of a medical condition.

Coroners are not even called into nursing homes in the state of Georgia. Why?

“The physicians there handle their own cases unless it’s anything other than a natural,” Bowen said.

Georgia law also allows a physician assistant or registered nurse to pronounce deaths when the overseeing physician is not there.

It’s something that District Attorney Natalie Paine finds “very frustrating.”

Paine leads the Crimes Against the Vulnerable and Elderly Unit in Richmond County. Her task force has successfully investigated elder abuse and neglect cases. She prosecuted workers of personal care homes, but not in nursing homes.

“How do you police that you are basically relying on an employee of that agency or a member of that corporation to say, ‘Hey, we screwed up,’" Paine said.

Even if a patient’s family calls law enforcement, it’s often too late to gather enough evidence.

“Unfortunately, someone is usually passed away and we no longer have a body to do an autopsy on to get a medical opinion about whether their injuries are constituent with abuse or neglect,” Paine said.

Bowen and Paine are working together to change the law.

“I think we need to be able to investigate these deaths when they happen just like any other death,” Bowen said.

They want the law to require nursing home staff to call them when a patient dies.

“Sometimes they can’t speak for themselves,” Bowen said. “They need some help, and we’d like to help them if we could."

Laura Bulloch, on the other hand, died in a hospital.

“This is a facility where you might end up and people need to pay attention to that,” Paine said.

Had it not been for a doctor there detailing the natural cause, the family believes they might have never known the real reason their sister died.

“If you got peoples in the nursing home, please check your family,” McClain said.

The earlier law enforcement becomes involved in an abuse or neglect case the more likely they're able to collect evidence. Often a family's first call is to other family members or a funeral home instead of investigators.

If you suspect elder neglect or abuse please report it to your local law enforcement.
 
Report Abuse/Neglect:

Richmond County Sheriff's Office: (706) 821-1000
Columbia County Sheriff's Office (706) 541-2800
Aiken County Sheriff's Office (803) 642-1761
C.A.V.E. Task Force: (706) 821-1150

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