OWEN CO. — A Martinsville man’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against an Owen County nursing home accusing them of negligence.
Kenneth “Butch” Burgin, died on November 11, but his family says his death didn’t have to happen.
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney has been tracking concerns in nursing homes since the start of the pandemic and talked to Butch’s family about their push for change.
“My dad was the hardest working man I’ve ever known,” said Ken Burgin, son of “Butch” Burgin.
Ken misses his father, who everyone called “Butch.”
Ken retired after 20 years with the Morgan County Highway Department and developed Alzheimer’s three years ago, but stayed physically fit.
"He was an incredibly active guy and wanted to be outside every day,” said Ken Burgin.
As Alzheimer’s took hold, Butch’s family searched for a facility that could help provide memory care.
"We did tons of research,” said Ken Burgin. “We looked at every facility that we could find that had a locked memory care unit. Dad was a flight risk because he liked to walk so much."
Butch’s family settled on Owen Valley Health Campus in Spencer, and took Butch there on September 4.
“We really put our trust in them, and we were really let down,” said Ken Burgin.
Initially, family members were able to visit with Butch outside at the nursing home once a week, but that changed in mid-October when a staff member tested positive, and visitation protocol changed.
"They were in a COVID-lockdown and we weren't able to visit him,” said Ken Burgin. “We were able to call and check and that's all we were able to do."
One phone call in particular to the nursing home alarmed Butch’s family.
“They said he doesn’t want to get out of bed and he doesn’t want to eat much,” said Ken Burgin.
When Butch’s family pulled him out of Owen Valley Health Campus on November 10, they were shocked by his condition.
According to a lawsuit filed Monday, Jan. 4 by mail, Butch suffered from dehydration, pressure sores and had facial contusions.
"His nose was broken and his front teeth were busted out and they hadn't told us a thing about that,” said Ken Burgin. “He was emaciated."
Butch died the next day, on November 11, at the age of 73.
His death certificate shows “protein calorie malnutrition” contributed to his death.
Butch’s family is devastated and confused as to how Butch could go from an active man to death’s door in just two months.
"He meant so much to us,” said Ken Burgin. “We thought we had several more years with him."
Ken says his family still hasn’t gotten answers about what happened to Butch, including his broken nose.
So, they hired attorney Ashley Hadler of Indianapolis law firm Garau Germano.
"It's a case of neglect, it's a case of abuse, it's case of excuses,” said Hadler.
Hadler says Butch’s biggest decline happened during COVID-19 restrictions, when visitors and state health inspectors were not allowed inside the facility.
"They didn't have enough staff in the building," said Hadler. "All of the protections for our most vulnerable population were stripped away. And what happened to Butch is the perfect example of what can happen without those protections."
Hadler said in some cases state law gives nursing homes immunity for actions taken in response to an emergency like COVID-19, but Hadler said that should not apply here.
"At the time that Butch was neglected and injured, there were no COVID positive residents in the entire building,” said Hadler.
You can check here on the state’s dashboard for how many COVID-19 resident and employee cases a facility had at a particular point in time.
Butch’s family is suing Owen Valley’s operator, Trilogy Health Services, and owner Putnam County Hospital for negligence.
Hadler said the lawsuit was filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance, rather than state court, because the entities that own and operate it are qualified healthcare providers under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.
Butch’s family hopes to prompt change statewide.
“We hope that this is a message to our lawmakers that these facilities cannot be given a pass for what has occurred,” said Hadler. “Because if that pass happens, how do we protect people in the future and keep people safe? "
Butch’s family wants answers about what happened to him, and they want to hold the nursing home accountable.
"I just miss him," said Ken Burgin. “He deserved better. The loss of dignity he had to suffer because of their negligence and their inability to care is so unjust. He's my dad and they didn't treat him with the honor and the respect that he deserves.”
WRTV Investigates reached out to Trilogy Health Services and Putnam County Hospital, which operate and own the facility, they released the following statement.