Nursing home workers charged after a WWII vet was left alone to die
By LINDSEY BEVER AND AVI SELK | The Washington Post | Published: February 22, 2018
The World War II vet threw one of his legs over the edge of his hospital bed, gasped for air and called out desperately to an empty room: "Help me, help me, help me."
Minutes later, 89-year-old James Dempsey, who had pressed a call button in his room, cried out again: "Help me. Help me. Help."
It was early on a February morning in 2014 — and Dempsey was dying, all alone.
The wrenching scene was captured on hidden video camera his family had placed in the room at Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation. It showed a staffer at the nursing home check on him, then leave. Later, it showed workers discovering that he was unconscious. Even later, it showed them calling 911 for help.
The video also showed a moment someone laughed as nurses struggled to get Dempsey's oxygen machine to work.
On Wednesday, nearly four years after Dempsey gasped for air and died, two nurses and an aide were indicted on numerous charges, including murder, according to NBC affiliate WXIA.
Dempsey's family had placed the hidden camera in his room because he had been anxious about staying in a nursing home, his son told WSB. The son said Dempsey knew it was there but the nurses didn't — and it would become instrumental in building a case against the home and the workers after the veteran's death.
In front of that camera on Feb. 27, 2014, Dempsey cried out for help — calls that went unanswered.
Following a police investigation, a lawsuit and a grand jury indictment, former licensed practical nurse (LPN) Loyce Pickquet Agyeman is now charged with felony murder and neglect to an elder person. Another former LPN, Wanda Nuckles, is charged with depriving an elder person of essential services. Nurse assistant Mable Turman is charged with neglect to an elder person.
All three women are also charged with concealing the death of another person, according to WXIA.
It was not immediately clear Thursday morning whether the three women have attorneys.
The case made national news late last year after WXIA and other news organizations aired portions of the hidden video footage that showed Dempsey's last breaths.
The video shows that at 4:34 a.m. Feb. 27, 2014, Dempsey, who had pressed a button to call a nurse, labored to breathe and called out: "Help me, help me, help me."
The only immediate answer was the soft murmur of a TV.
As seen in the NBC affiliate's video, a worker entered the room eight minutes after that call. Dempsey appeared to be laboring. The worker adjusted Dempsey's bed, inspected some tubes around his neck, then turned off his call light and left him alone.
In a deposition more than a year later, which WXIA also aired, the video was shown to Nuckles, the nursing supervisor on duty that night.
"Would you agree it appears as though he's gasping for air?" the questioner asked Nuckles.
"It looks like it," she said quietly as she watched.
"Is that an emergency situation, ma'am?"
"How's it make you feel to watch this, ma'am?"
Staff returned to the room nearly an hour later and found Dempsey unconscious, the station reported.
Nearly another full hour passed before anyone called 911, according to the station. At that point, Nuckles herself was called up to the room.
Earlier in her deposition, Nuckles testified that she ran across the nursing home's courtyard to Dempsey's room, where, she said, she and a second nurse took turns performing constant CPR. "Unless a doctor says stop, you have to continue," Nuckles told the questioner. "That's always been the rule."
But the questioner played a clip from the video that told a different story. In the video, Nuckles walked into the room shortly before 6:30 a.m., where another nurse stood by Dempsey's bed. Someone flipped the dying man's sheet up, and someone lowered his bed. But neither Nuckles nor the nurse appeared to touch Dempsey's chest.
"Contrary to the way you testified previously, there's no one doing CPR, is there?" the questioner asked Nuckles after playing the clip.
"No," Nuckles said.
A few minutes later, a third person joined Nuckles and the second nurse.
Dempsey was still not moving, and still no one was attempting CPR.
The NBC affiliate reported that the nurses were having trouble getting Dempsey's oxygen machine to work by 6:30 a.m. — at which point in the video Nuckles pressed both hands onto Dempsey's mattress, and someone laughed.
"Ma'am, is there something funny that was happening?" the questioner asked Nuckles in the deposition.
"I have no clue, sir," she said. "I can't even remember all that."
A minute later, Nuckles finally attempted CPR on Dempsey. She pumped his chest half a dozen times in the video, then stopped.
Dempsey's family sued the facility but then settled and wouldn't comment to WXIA about the video, which the station obtained after its own legal fight with Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation. The nursing home tried to have the video sealed by a court, the station reported, and only released it on a judge's order.
Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for Sava Senior Care, which owns the facility, told WXIA last year that it was "saddened by the events, which occurred more than three years ago" and had since worked to improve its service.
Agyeman and Nuckles surrendered their licenses in September, after the Georgia Board of Nursing learned of the video.
Warrants have been issued for the arrests of all three women. A trial date has not been set.