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I-Team: Mother blames son's death on negligence at Watertown facility

I-Team: Mother blames son's death on negligence at Watertown facility
I-Team: Mother blames son's death on negligence at Watertown facility 04:26

WATERTOWN - Vero Health and Rehabilitation of Watertown is one of the lowest rated homes in the state. The subject of several I-Team investigations involving claims of abuse and neglect, the facility is facing new allegations from a Braintree mother who says her quadriplegic son died as a result of the home's negligence.

Marie Shadduck says by the time staff used Jack's phone to call 911, he was already dead. Marie tells the I-Team, "ultimately I think that he suffocated." Jack's phone shows 11 calls to the nurse's station that day. Marie says no one ever answered or went to help him. "They never came," Marie said. 

Jack was just 33 years old. Active until he was a teenager, Jack contracted an illness that attacked his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. Despite his challenges, Jack led a full life and used his sense of humor to perform on stage at comedy shows.

Last December, Jack was scheduled to move to a residential facility when he suffered a complication and was hospitalized at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  When he recovered, his placement wasn't ready and the hospital moved Jack, against his will, to Vero. 

Marie says she and Jack saw the I-Team investigations about the Watertown home. She tells the I-Team the family was very uncomfortable about Jack being transitioned there. Jack told his mom he felt very unsafe.

The day he moved in Marie took photos of some of the filthy conditions. She says a previous resident's personal items were in Jack's closet and drawers.

Unable to use a call button, Jack used Siri to contact the nurse's station and text his mom. Marie shared some of the gut-wrenching messages he sent her in the last days of his life. Marie nearly in tears says Jack wrote, "I really don't feel safe here. This place is horrible it's a bit worse than death ... I feel like I'm going to pass out," - and in one of his last message said, "I don't know how long I'm gonna survive this place."

Marie says nobody was answering the phones and tells the I-Team she believes the facility is responsible for Jack's death. "No doubt if he had not been in that place he would still be alive," she said.

The I-Team has learned in 2021 there were 471 911 calls made from the home, up from 272 in 2020. Some of the calls were made by residents desperate for help.

The facility has consistently received a poor overall rating from Medicare. Within the last five years inspectors found 72 deficiencies and fined Vero $372,000.

A January 2022 inspection shows two residents who needed help eating were starved. One lost 10 pounds in 14 days. A second had severe significant weight loss, dropping to less than 57 pounds in three months.

Arlene Germaine the executive director for Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform says with the facility's history, the state should have a stronger look at how the home is being run. "There needs to be stronger enforcement there's no other way of putting it," Germaine said.

Jack's mom, who is a nurse, says she believes the home is not safe. She told the I-Team, "In no uncertain terms would I qualify that as a safe medical long term care facility." 

She places some of the blame for Jack's death on Beth Israel's decision to move him to the Watertown home where she says he never had a chance. "I have been in a lot of medical facilities, never have I ever seen anything like this. You would never think you were in America," Marie said. "Quite honestly it's just astounding that we put our vulnerable individuals in harm's way like that, it's just sad."

Beth Israel says it does not comment on patient experiences. Vero did not respond to our numerous requests for comment and in February, a month after Jack's death, the facility was sold. The state Department of Public Health tells the I-Team the facility had to submit a plan of correction for the deficiencies and is now on a list of Medicare homes slated for more frequent inspections. 

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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