ARVADA, Colo. -- A Colorado family says their loved one was "neglected to death." Now, Arvada Police, the facility's owner and state regulators are investigating the allegations.
Sylvia Torralba is searching through family photos for the good memories she desperately needs.
"It's going to be such a void without her," she said, holding a photographer of her mother, Julie Gutierrez, who died last week.
Now, questions about how she died are haunting Torralba, who alleges neglect at the Almost Like Home Assisted Living Facility in Arvada.
"I think they neglected her to death. They didn't take care of her," she said.
Before the pandemic, Torralba and other family members visited Gutierrez at least three times a week. But for months, because of health orders, they were not allowed to see her in person at all.
When family members were finally allowed a full, in-person visit, they said Gutierrez's decline was dramatic. They immediately knew something was wrong when she couldn't sit still.
"The caregiver, she said 'She's not trying to get out of her chair, she has a bedsore, and it's really bad,'" said Torralba. "I said, 'Did you call the doctor? And she said we're waiting for Aurelia to get back from vacation.' Why would you do that? Why are you waiting?"
Torralba said she immediately called for medical care.
Graphic photographs show the large bedsore Torralba said had become septic.
"She was severely dehydrated, so dehydrated she had to be fluid resuscitated," said Torralba, who said her mother also had a urinary tract infection and an ischemic bowel. "We just had to make her comfortable. She had no serious health issues before other than dementia. She had a lot of life left to live."
Gutierrez died less than two weeks later.
"Their own records prove their neglect," said Torralba, showing medical records from the facility that indicates staff noticed "butt soars" in August.
The records indicate days with no notes of hydration, but also claim staff was taking care of Gutierrez on days she had already been taken out of the facility.
Contact Denver7 has confirmed that Arvada Police and CDPHE are investigating allegations of neglect, but neither would comment on an active investigation.
Meanwhile, the owner of Almost Like Home in Arvada said he is also launching an internal investigation but would not comment.
CDPHE records show Almost Like Home in Arvada has been cited three times in 2020, including one citation for elder abuse. In 2019, the facility self-reported neglect twice. In one instance, staff gave a resident a double dose of morphine.
"It's too late for us. My mom is gone, but that doesn't mean this story should just go away," said Torralba, who said family members need to fight to see their loved ones and state regulations must change to allow it. "I'm going to fight for her like she fought for us. I'm not going to give up. She didn't deserve it. None of them do."
Advocates for seniors say, in general, they are receiving increased calls from family members who are concerned about their loved ones in assisted living facilities.
"Families are often our best' eyes and ears' and will know if a loved one is declining," said Shannon Gimbel, the Ombudsman manager for the Area Agency on Aging. "Families now having limited abilities to see their loved ones in person. There is greater risk of residents' health and mental well being declining. Staffing has also been a challenge for long-term care homes; staffing appropriately was a challenge prior to COVID and now even more so, because there are fewer staff choosing to work in this field."
Gimble said family members should check in frequently, and if visits are not permitted, people can ask to see their loved one via virtual means. Call the staff at the home and ask for daily updates, call your loved one and ask pointed questions about their care, hydration/nutrition, and psychosocial well being. Ask for updates from the staff as to what steps they are taking to ensure someone is being engaged, like asking how often they are getting out of bed or out of their room.
If weight loss is a concern, ask for weight checks to be performed to monitor for weight loss. If someone has cognitive decline and cannot answer questions, work with the home on setting up an in-person visit.
"There are various ways that Ombudsmen can advocate to try and make this happen," said Gimble. "Laying eyes on a person is so very crucial when they cannot communicate their needs, and it is often families who will notice changes in someone before anyone else will notice."
If you suspect your loved one is being neglected or abused, reach out to an Ombudsman to get more information.
"An Ombudsman can take action on behalf of a resident/legal decision-maker with permission," said Gimble "If the severity of the concerns warrant involvement from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE is the enforcement agency), a complaint can be filed to investigate care concerns. An Ombudsman can help connect families with how to file a formal complaint with CDPHE, and often Ombudsmen are able to resolve it at a lower level, but CDPHE is always an option to have these concerns investigated."
The Area Agency on Aging provided these signs of neglect or decline should family members watch for:
- Watch for signs of discomfort. Are they shifting in their chair/bed? Ask if there are sores or skin break down that is causing the discomfort.
- Look for signs of dehydration, dry cracked lips, a dry mouth. Ask if they are getting enough to drink.
- Ask if they are getting adequate meals and assistance with feeding if needed. Ask what they are eating and at what times.
- If someone who was engaged prior to COVID now seems listless or disinterested in things that would normally engage them ask more questions.
- If the care community uses call lights, ask the loved one if their call light is in reach, and if they do call for help if they are getting responded to in a timely manner.
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