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November 21, 2017

A nurse said she rushed to aid this dying WWII vet. A hidden camera tells another story.

Daily Briefing

James Dempsey, an 89-year-old World War II veteran, died in a nursing home after staff appeared to laugh while ignoring his cries for help, according to recently released footage from a hidden camera.

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Dempsey had been receiving care at Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation. The two nurses involved in the incident eventually lost their licenses—more than three years after the incident occurred.

Portions of the footage, which the veteran's family used in a lawsuit they eventually settled with the nursing home, aired last week on WXIA-TV. The TV station obtained the footage earlier this year and shared it with the Georgia Board of Nursing

What happened

To quell Dempsey's nerves about staying in a nursing home, Dempsey's family had hidden a camera in his room. Dempsey knew about the camera, but staff did not.

At 4:34 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2014, the footage shows that Dempsey pressed a button to call a nurse. The Washington Post reports that Dempsey "croaked three times [in]to [the] empty room: 'Help me, help me, help me.'" After a few seconds, he repeated, "Help me. Help me Help."

About eight minutes later, a worker came to Dempsey's room, adjusted his bed, inspected some tubes, and turned off his call light.

Roughly an hour later, staff returned to Dempsey's room and found him unconscious, WXIA-TV reported. After nearly another hour, staff called 911. Nursing supervisor Wanda Nuckles at that point was summoned to the room.

In a deposition, Nuckles said she ran across the nursing home courtyard to Dempsey's room, and she and another nurse took turns performing CPR. According to WXIA, the nursing supervisor gave that testimony before she knew the hidden camera existed.

However, the camera footage showed Nuckles walked into the room, where another nurse was standing by Dempsey's bed. The Post reports that "neither Nuckles nor the [other] nurse appeared to touch Dempsey's chest." After a few minutes pass, a third employee comes into the room. The Post reports "still no one was attempting CPR."

WXIA reported that by about 6:30 a.m., nurses were having difficulty getting Dempsey's oxygen machine to function. The video shows someone laughing as Nuckles put both hands onto Dempsey's mattress. About a minute later, Nuckles tried CPR, pumping Dempsey's chest a handful of times, then stopping.

Dempsey's family declined to comment on the video to WXIA.

Nursing home's response

The attorneys representing the nursing home fought in court to keep WXIA from obtaining the video, appealing the matter up to the Georgia Supreme Court. However, the nursing home eventually dropped its appeal.

Nuckles and another nurse involved in the incident were fired about a year after the incident. However, they did not have to surrender their licenses until September 2017, when WXIA sent a link to the video to the Georgia Board of Nursing.

A spokesperson for Sava Senior Care, which owns Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation, said the organization was "saddened by the events." Noting that the events "occurred more than three years ago," the spokesperson said the facility now has "new leadership and the leadership team, and the staff have worked very diligently to improve quality care and the quality of life for our residents." 

The spokesperson continued, "The facility recently was deficiency-free during our recent annual inspection conducted by the Georgia Department of Health on May 25, 2017." According to WXIA, while the facility received a good inspection this year, it currently maintains a one-star Medicare rating—the lowest available—and has received at least two dozen citations for serious health and safety violations since Dempsey's death (Pierrotti, WXIA, 11/18; Selk, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 11/18; Perez, Newsweek, 11/18; AP/CBS News, 11/19).

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