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April 23, 2003: Michigan Files Charges Due To Heat-Related Death

April 23, 2003
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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that he has filed involuntary manslaughter charges against a Detroit nursing home, its medical director, and director of nursing following an investigation into the heat-related death (hyperthermia) of a 78-year-old female tube-fed resident. (See The News, “Nursing Home Deaths Lead To A/C Legislation,” July 16, 2001.)

“We have a fundamental obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our society. In the case of Ms. Williams, that obligation was completely ignored by Northland, by the supervising doctor, and the head nurse. Their refusal to act accordingly cost Ms. Williams her life,” Cox stated. “I will not sit idly by and watch this neglect go unpunished. Our seniors deserve much better.”

Cox alleges that on or about June 15, 2001, the defendants failed to provide adequate care for resident Mary Williams. Northland and other facilities statewide had received alerts regarding hazardous temperature levels, cautioning each facility, especially those with elderly residents, that hyperthermia is a medical emergency necessitating immediate steps in order to prevent death.

Williams was assessed as a dehydration risk. High temperatures in Detroit reached 87 degrees F on June 13, 89 degrees F on June 14, and 90 degrees F on June 15, 2001. On June 14, several seriously ill residents began experiencing problems as a result of the heat. The situation was compounded by the lack of air conditioning, a shortage of fans, and the fact that the windows could not be opened.

During midnight rounds, Williams was found to have a temperature of 107 degrees. She was then given Tylenol. Twenty minutes later Williams was found unconscious and unresponsive with no vital signs. The medical examiner concluded that the death was caused by prolonged exposure to excessive heat.

Publication date: 04/21/2003

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