South Dakota Nursing Home Abuse Case Goes to Trial

nursing home abuseOpening Statements in Nursing Home Abuse Trial in South Dakota

On Tuesday, August 27th, a jury heard the opening statements in the trial of a former nurse at a Dell Rapids, SD nursing home, who has been accused of nursing home abuse.

Heather Lynn Laird, 36, pleaded not guilty earlier this year to one count of nursing home abuse, specifically abusing a disabled adult. She is currently free on a recognizance bond, although she faces up to two years in prison if convicted on the nursing home abuse charges.

The allegations began at the Dell Rapids Nursing and Rehab Center, in South Dakota. According to reports, Laird was doing her regular rounds during her overnight shift on November 3rd, 2012, and a 76-year-old woman was next on the schedule to receive medication. Laird entered the patient’s room to give her two pills, as per the schedule. Two other female patients were staying in the room.

The reported incident of nursing home abuse occurred when Laird, according to Minnehaha County Deputy State’s Attorney Lori Ehlers, pulled the sleeping victim up by her hair and pinned the woman’s legs down with her knee. Laird then shoved the medication cup in the victim’s mouth, threw water in her face, and grabbed the woman’s chest and squeezed.

“About that time, she gets hit in a face with water out of a cup or pitcher that’s kept beside her bed,” Ehlers said. “The comment then made to (the woman) was that ‘you need to take your pills.’ ”

Laird’s attorney, however, argues that there was no other evidence of the incident, despite potential witnesses both in the room and at the nurse’s station nearby.

“She was 30 feet away from the nurses’ station,” attorney Melissa Fiksdal said. “There were other people on duty that night and a person was laying on the bed not two in a half feet away, and she never cried for help. Not once.”

Fiksdal also argued that the patient had recorded memory problems. She had had a stroke in August of that year, and had struggled with her vision as well.

The day after the incident, the victim reportedly told a nurse about the nursing home abuse, and the nurse saw bruising on the victim’s chest, and notified a social worker. However, Fiksdal said that the bruising could have been caused by an unreported fall, and not nursing home abuse.

Laird was indicted in December 2012, after grand jurors heard testimony from the victim and a detective.

3 Actions to Take Against Nursing Home Abuse

An act of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an older person might give rise to one or all of the following types of proceedings:

  • an investigation and finding by an adult protective services agency or the regulatory agency for nursing homes (in South Carolina it is the Department of Environmental Control);
  • a civil cause of action for damages; and/or
  • a criminal prosecution.

These three types of proceedings have different objectives: the objective of a protective services investigation is to provide immediate help and relief to the victim and prevent further harm; the civil action is to seek compensation for damages; and the criminal prosecution is when the state seeks to punish the harmful conduct.

Under South Carolina law, physical abuse includes: slapping, hitting, kicking, biting, choking, pinching, burning, drugging a patient or confining a patient to control behavior. SEC. 43-35-10 A person does not have to inflict abuse to be held responsible for the physical abuse. One is culpable by allowing it to take place without doing anything to stop or prevent the abuse.

The Strom Law Defends Victims of Nursing Home Abuse

If your loved one has faced nursing home abuse, you do not have to suffer in silence. Contact the attorneys at the Strom Law Firm for a free, confidential consultation. We are here to help. 803.252.4800.