Investigation Launched Into Treatment Of COVID Patient At N.H. Veterans Home
The New Hampshire Veterans Home is launching an internal investigation into accusations that the health of a resident with COVID-19 was neglected.
Pam Lariviere says her uncle who lives in the home was not properly monitored and cared for during his battle with the virus, ultimately leading to life-threatening complications.
Margaret LaBrecque, the commandant at the Veterans Home, said the facility’s medical director and the director of nursing would personally investigate the allegations.
Richard Rajotte, who in his youth had been stationed in Maine with the Air Force, lived in the dementia unit of the veterans home for two years before he, along with more than 80 other residents, tested positive for COVID-19.
“Your uncle is a cherished member of our home,” LaBrecque wrote in response to Lariviere’s complaints.
Lariviere, who is her uncle’s medical proxy, called the home frequently to keep tabs on his health throughout the course of his illness. Every time she called, the staff reassured her that, though he was fragile from the disease and having some difficulty eating, he was managing okay with Tylenol.
“No one said he’s not drinking, he’s severely dehydrated, that he can barely open his eyes,” she said.
The day after Thanksgiving, Lariviere said she received a call in the evening from the veterans home informing her Rajotte’s legs were swelling and he had some blood in his urine. She said they told her they had given him more Tylenol and sent his urine to a lab to be tested on Monday.
Lariviere didn’t think he couldn’t wait until Monday.
“Why isn’t he being treated?” she wondered. “Why haven’t you transferred him to a hospital and called me to tell me he’s en route to the hospital?”
The nursing home staff member assured her that Rajotte’s oxygen levels were manageable but, at Lariviere’s insistence, transferred him to Lakes Region General Hospital.
By that evening, he had been admitted to the ICU with kidney failure, severe dehydration, sepsis, and a blood oxygen saturation level of 91% (the CDC recommends hospitalization for patients with oxygen saturation under 95%), according to Rajotte’s medical records, which were reviewed by the Monitor.
Nurses at the ICU reported decay in his mouth and tongue. The day after he was admitted, one doctor noted he “was not eating or drinking for the last 11 days”.
“COVID isn’t malnutrition,” Lariviere said. “The nurse is explaining it to me and she’s almost in tears on the phone.”
His mental state too had deteriorated, Lariviere said. Rajotte suffered from dementia but, before being admitted to the hospital, had mild symptoms of the degenerative disease— he could still walk independently and hold a conversation with his niece, whom he called regularly.
“He normally walks and talks and is able to joke around,” Rajotte’s hospital records read. “His mental status is very different from his baseline.”
Lariviere said her uncle no longer recognizes her.
“I know uncle doesn’t mean anything to most people,” she said. “You know it’s not my dad or my mom but he is a dear, sweet man. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He did his job.”
State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, of Manchester, said he has received letters from people with family members at the veterans home who are also concerned about the treatment of their loved ones.
He declined to say how many families reached out or the specifics of their complaints out of respect for the families’ privacy, but did confirm some of them specifically mentioned concerns about elder neglect.
Lariviere said she thinks the veterans home simply isn’t staffed to take care of all of their residents right now.
On Sunday, the veterans home pleaded with the public to volunteer at the facility. In total, 85 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, leaving the facility with vacancies for weeks. They needed people to fill nearly every position— security officers, food workers, business maintenance workers, laundry workers, and nurses.
“We take our mission of providing the best quality of life for New Hampshire veterans with dignity, honor, and respect very seriously,” LaBrecque said. “After a thorough investigation of this allegation, following guidelines, our findings will be reported to Gov. Sununu. We are concerned about this claim, especially given the sincere thanks we receive daily from veterans and their families.”
As much as Lariviere feared sending her uncle back to the facility, she had little choice.
Rajotte’s case manager at the hospital told her most nursing homes weren’t accepting new residents if they were positive for COVID-19. Even if they did, Richard’s monthly stipend from the VA and Social Security disqualifies him from Medicaid, which most seniors rely on to pay for long term care.
Lariviere appealed to keep her uncle in the hospital longer while she looked for other facilities, but was rejected on Saturday. A couple of days later, Rajotte returned to the veterans home.
Ben Vihstadt, a spokesperson for Governor Chris Sununu, confirmed the governor’s office is looking into the allegations of neglect.
“The governor takes any allegation of misconduct incredibly seriously, and there is an internal investigation this week to determine what happened,” Vihstadt said.
Lariviere said she’s frustrated with how the governor’s office has handled the outbreak. Sununu has said the state prioritized the veterans home’s requests for additional staffing and infection control.
“The team has had anything that they need,” he said at a press conference last week.
Lariviere questioned that given the outcomes at the home, with more than half of the residents getting sick and nearly a quarter dying. If the facility had everything they needed, why were they putting out pleas for staffing? Why were there so many dead?
“People are so free with ‘thank you for your service’,” she said. “Shouldn’t it mean something?
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