Hidden camera: nurses laughing as WWII veteran dies

November 21, 2017

Feb 21, 2018 update:
A grand jury indicted the women (three nursing home employees), four years after James Dempsey was found dead in his room at the Northeast Atlanta Rehabilitation Center. Loyce Pickquet Agyeman’s top charge is felony murder; Wanda Nuckles, a nursing supervisor, is charged with depriving an elder of essential services and Mable Turman is charged with neglect to an elder. Following the indictments, warrants were issued for their arrests.

Original post:
A decorated World War II veteran, James Dempsey, 89, of Woodstock, Ga., gasped for air, called for help and hit the call light in Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation Center. A video shows that it took 8 minutes for a nurse to come in, adjust his bed, turn off the light, and leave without checking vital signs.

An hour-and-a-half later three nurses come in. The nurse laughed so hard that she had to bend over and press both hands onto Dempsey’s mattress in a fit of giggles.

Despite one nurse testifying that she did CPR until medics arrived, a video shows she did not perform CPR; she did six chest compressions then stopped.

Initially, Dempsey’s family thought he had died of natural causes. But they had installed a hidden camera they feared mistreatment. The video sparked a three-year legal battle.

The nurses seen in the video surrendered their licenses about three years after Dempsey’s death. The nursing home is Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation. Its Medicare rating is one star, the lowest from the federal
agency. It remains open today.

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By the late winter of 2014, James Dempsey had served in a world war, raised children. He was also retired from the Georgia Army National Guard and married for more than 50 years. As he prepared for a stay at a nursing home on the outskirts of Atlanta, the 89-year-old began to feel nervous.

So his family hid a camera in his room at Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation, Dempsey knew about it, but the nurses didn’t. In some state the law may not allow such installation due to privacy. It is clear that his family would not have known what happened without their own surveillance.

James Dempsey died in that room Feb. 27, 2014, in front of the secret camera. What his family saw on the video made them sue the facility.

The video shows the World War II veteran repeatedly calling for help, saying he can’t breathe. It also shows the nurses failing to take life-saving measures and laughing as they try to start an oxygen machine. The nurse laughed so hard that she had to bend over and press both hands onto Dempsey’s mattress in a fit of giggles.

On the last day of his life, Dempsey threw one skinny leg over the edge of his hospital bed. He pressed a button to call a nurse and croaked three times to an empty room: “Help me, help me, help me.”
A few seconds passed. “Help me. Help me. Help.”

In a deposition more than a year later, the video was shown to Wanda Nuckles, the nursing supervisor on duty that night.

“Would you agree it appears as though he’s gasping for air?” the questioner asked Nuckles.
“It looks like it,” she said quietly as she watched.

“Is that an emergency situation, ma’am?”
“Yep. Yes.”

Staff returned to the room nearly an hour later and found Dempsey unconscious. Nearly another full hour passed before anyone called 911, according to the station. At that point, Nuckles herself was called up to the room.

In a video deposition included in the lawsuit records, Wanda Nuckles told the family’s lawyer, Mike Prieto, how she rushed to Dempsey’s room when a nurse alerted her that Dempsey had stopped breathing. As she was questioned, she did not know about the camera that had recorded her actions. The nursing supervisor told attorneys that, when she learned Dempsey had stopped breathing, she rushed to his room and took over CPR, keeping it up until paramedics arrived. The video shows that nobody was doing CPR when she arrived, and she did not start immediately.

Prieto: “From the time you came in, you took over doing chest compressions, … correct?”
Nuckles: “Yes.”
Prieto: “Until the time paramedics arrive, you were giving CPR continuously?”
Nuckles: “Yes.”

Earlier in her deposition, Nuckles testified that she ran across the nursing home’s courtyard to Dempsey’s room, where she said she and a second nurse took turns performing constant CPR. “Unless a doctor says stop, you have to continue,” Nuckles told the questioner. “That’s always been the rule.”

But the questioner played a clip from the video that told a different story. In the video, Nuckles walked into the room, where another nurse stood by Dempsey’s bed. Someone flipped the dying man’s sheet up, and someone lowered his bed. But neither Nuckles nor the nurse appeared to touch Dempsey’s chest.

After being shown the video, she told the attorneys it was an honest mistake, based on her normal actions.

“Sir, that was an honest mistake,” Nuckles said in the recorded deposition when confronted with the video evidence. “I was just basing everything on what I normally do.”

When a different nurse responded, that woman, whose name was not released, also failed to check any of Dempsey’s vital signs. When Nuckles saw the video clip, she said she would have reprimanded the nurse for the way she responded to Dempsey.

She called the hidden-camera video “sick.”

When nurses had difficulty getting Dempsey’s oxygen machine operational, Nuckles and others could be heard laughing.

Prieto: “Ma’am, was there something funny that was happening?”
Nuckles: “I can’t even remember all that, as you can see.”

The nursing home’s lawyers attempted, then withdrew, an appeal to the Georgia State Supreme Court to keep the video under wraps.

The nursing home was made aware of the video in November 2015, but officials did not fire the nurses involved Dempsey’s care on his final day until 10 months later, according to state inspection reports.

Nuckles and the other nurse seen in the video surrendered their licenses in September, about three years after Dempsey’s death, according to the Georgia Board of Nursing.

On average the Georgia Nursing Board takes 427 days, more than a year, to investigate a nursing complaint. That’s a decrease from about 2,000 days, more than five years, Izlar said.



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