Youngstown Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Communicare, Austintown Health Center

Death from Untreated Infection

A resident died from an untreated infection at Austintown Health Center. A youngstown family has bravely taken steps to hold Communicare responsible for what they believe was neglect causing their father, Christopher Cullen, Jr., to die from an infection. Mr. Cullen entered Austintown Healthcare Center on July 17, 2019 for short term. He was dead 2 months later. The official cause of death was listed as “septic shock.” Sepsis is a severe inflammatory response to an infection that can cause multi-organ failure and death.  

Austintown Health Center

image of front of communicare building housing nursing home sued for wrongful death
Austintown Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio is accused of allowing a resident to die after improperly treating his infection. Photo credit: Communicarehealth.com

Austintown Health Center is a 70-bed nursing home and rehab center located at 650 South Meridian Road, Youngstown, Ohio. It is owned and operated by Communicare Family of Companies, a for profit corporation managing nursing homes throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri. According to its website, Austintown Health Center is “specialized” in “Infectious Disease Control.” 

According to the lawsuit, however, Christopher Cullen was admitted without any signs of infection. He was admitted for rehabilitation following a brief hospitalization that had cleared. 

Systemic Understaffing at Austintown

The lawsuit alleges that Austintown caused Mr. Cullen’s injuries by not having enough staff to properly care for its residents. Medicare, the arm of the federal government that regulates nursing homes, has given Austintown Health Center only 2 out of 5 stars for staffing. According to Medicare, this means that Austintown’s staffing is “below average.”  The lawsuit alleges that

“The Communicare Defendants engaged in a systemic practice to understaff the facility to maximize profits at the expense of its residents’ care” . . . and that “[o]n numerous occasions, Christopher Cullen, Jr.’s family told the Facility Administrator that the Facility did not have enough staff and that as a consequence Christopher’s needs were not being met.” 

Sepsis from Untreated C.Diff

Christopher Cullen contracted a gut infection called c. diff at Austintown. It led to sepsis and killed him. With adequate care he would have survived the lawsuit claims. 

What is c. diff?

Clostridium difficile, or c. diff, bacteria are found throughout the environment — in soil, air, water, human and animal feces, and food products, such as processed meats.

Spores from C. difficile bacteria are passed in feces and spread to food, surfaces, and objects when people who are infected don’t wash their hands thoroughly. These spores can remain in a room for weeks or months. If you touch a surface contaminated with C. difficile spores, you may then unknowingly swallow the bacteria.

Once established, C. diff can produce toxins that attack the lining of the intestine. The toxins destroy cells, produce patches (plaques) of inflammatory cells and decaying cellular debris inside the colon, and cause watery diarrhea.

The majority of C. difficile infections occur in people who are or who have recently been in a health care setting—including hospitals and nursing homes—where germs spread easily, antibiotic use is common, and people are especially vulnerable to infection. In hospitals and nursing homes, c. diff spreads mainly on hands from person to person, but also on cart handles, bedrails, bedside tables, toilets, sinks, stethoscopes, thermometers — and even telephones and remote controls.

What are Signs and Symptoms of C. Diff

The most common signs of c. diff include weight loss, stomach pain or cramping, and diarrhea—especially foul-smelling diarrhea.

Austintown staff should have been trained to identify these common signs and symptoms for c. diff, according to the lawsuit and common sense.  

How is C. Diff Diagnosed?

The simplest way to detect c. diff is through a stool test, in which you provide a fecal sample in a container. A pathologist, a doctor who studies diseases in a laboratory, determines whether the sample has signs of C. diff. In the nursing home setting, a stool test is the most common way c. diff is diagnosed.

How is C. Diff Treated?

If a nursing home resident has signs of c. diff, including foul-smelling diarrhea, he/she should be presumptively diagnosed with c. diff and a no contact/isolation order should be put in place. A no contact/isolation order is essential because c. diff is a highly contagious pathogen. 

C. diff is treated with an antibiotic called vancomycin. Antibiotics are typically taken by mouth for 14 days. Most people notice an improvement in symptoms within 3-4 days. 

C. diff returns in about 20 percent of people treated with antibiotics because the initial infection never went away, or the person was re-infected with a different strain of the bacterium. Symptoms such as diarrhea typically appear three days to three weeks after treatment is discontinued. Another round of antibiotics will treat the infection. You treat the infection until it’s gone. If you don’t the infection will get worse. 

Christopher’s c. diff returned. Austintown and it’s medical director did not provide additional antibiotics. Christopher was later hospitalized and diagnosed with septic shock that killed him. 

The Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Austintown

You can view the lawsuit here: 

The lawsuit alleges negligence, recklessness, wrongful death, and violations of Oho and Federal laws that regulate nursing homes like Austintown Health Center. The lawsuit is filed in Mahoning County, Ohio.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Michael Hill Leads the Fight 

Best Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Trial Lawyer Michael Hill from Eadie Hill Trial Lawyers at trial

This is one of a handful of cases Eadie Hill Trial Lawyers has brought against Communicare for allegations that it caused many residents’ deaths at their various facilities. Award winning nursing home abuse and neglect trial lawyer Michael A. Hill is the lead lawyer for the family. Michael is licensed in Ohio and Pennsylvania but handles select cases throughout the United States.

Michael Hill has been the lead trial lawyer on numerous cases involving Communicare facilities. He has successfully resolved everyone of those cases for his clients. 

You can read about one of those lawsuits here, Estate of Myrtle Brooks v. Wyant Woods Care Center

Do you have questions about a possible abuse, neglect, stroke, or heart attack case? Contact us now using this confidential form. Or leave a comment below--but remember the comments are public, not confidential.

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