A family is suing a Texas nursing home for negligence after their relative was reportedly ravaged by ants in the weeks leading up to her death.
“It’s something out of a horror story,” Lisa Howard told KXAN of the incident involving her mother, Kathleen Laurel, who had been living at Brush Country Nursing and Rehabilitation in Austin. Her beloved mom had allegedly passed away “peacefully” in her sleep Sept. 26, 2021, after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, per her obit.
However, her final days may not have been so peaceful. Two weeks before Laurel died, her family allegedly received word that their relative’s room had been infested with ants.
“I went there as soon as I found out that day, and I actually spoke to the nurse that found her the night before,” Howard recalled. She added that the nurse, who was pregnant, tearfully recounted how “she was the one taking the ants off my mother, and she was getting bitten as she was doing it.”
Accompanying photos taken by the family show Laurel’s body riddled with tiny red welts. Investigators have yet to identify the species of ant responsible for the attack, but the marks appear consistent with the stings of fire ants, an aggressive invasive species from South America that inhabits large swaths of the southern US, including Texas.
These ants are named after the burning pain they cause, fire ant venom can induce potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reactions similar to bees and wasps.
The red pests have been responsible for a spate of nursing home fatalities in the South over the years, including a 2020 incident in which a 56-year-old Arkansas nursing home resident died after fire ants were found swarming her body. Meanwhile, this past June, a Georgia court awarded $2.5 million to the family of a 92-year-old woman who died after getting stung repeatedly during an infestation at her assisted care center.
Laurel’s situation was especially heartbreaking, as her mental state reportedly rendered her unable to communicate the problem to staff.
“She was completely helpless,” lamented Howard. “She couldn’t ask for help.”
When confronted about the alleged pestilence, Brush Country administrators chalked up the incident to a heat rash — an explanation Howard found “ludicrous” given the symptoms.
“Then, heat rash begs the question, ‘Well why — where was she in so much heat that she got a heat rash?’ ” Laurel’s distraught daughter added.
The family subsequently filed a lawsuit against Brush Country Nursing and Rehabilitation, as well as its parent company, Dynasty Healthcare Management, KXAN reported.
According to a verified Texas Health and Human Services Commission report submitted by the family’s attorney, the facility failed to ensure that a resident “with physical debilities and severe cognitive impairment” was attended to at regular intervals during the night shift.
“She was found with active ants crawling on her while she was in bed with ant bites throughout her body causing resident pain, red welts, and hives that required immediate medical intervention and treatment,” the report added.
In an interview with the surveyor, a nurse claimed she had attempted to brush all the insects off Laurel and moved her to a recliner but stated it was impossible to check on every resident every two hours. Meanwhile, Brush Country Nursing and Rehabilitation administrators claimed that the facility had “deep cleaned” Laurel’s room and exterminators had been contacted to spray her quarters. The report stated that the facility also assessed all residents’ skin for ants bites and inspected every room but didn’t find “additional ants.”
Attorneys for the nursing home company have since denied all allegations made by the family.
Unfortunately, the ant attack was only one of the alleged examples of negligence detailed in the surveyor report. Brush Country was also cited for everything from resident falls to missed meals, which have been chalked up to staff shortages that have allegedly been plaguing the state’s assisted living facilities since before the coronavirus pandemic.
The family said they hope that Laurel’s plight will convince the state to impose minimum staffing requirements to ensure that this doesn’t happen anywhere else.
This past April, New York implemented a new law requiring the state’s more than 600 nursing homes to provide 3½ hours of care per resident per day. No fewer than 2.2 hours of that time must be given by a certified nursing assistant or nurse aide, while at least 1.1 hours must be provided by a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse, per the mandate.