PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court last week heard an appeal brought by representatives of the estate of a Fort Fairfield woman against the nursing home that they believe was negligent in caring for her prior to her death.
The appeal of the civil case that pits the estate of Vera Boulier against the Presque Isle Nursing Home was heard on Tuesday when the Law Court was sitting at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
The Portland-based attorney for the estate, Ken Hovermale, is appealing an earlier verdict rendered in Aroostook County Superior Court before Justice E. Allen Hunter. The jury found in favor of the Presque Isle Nursing Home, determining that Boulier’s death was not the result of negligence on the part of the health care facility.
Hovermale based the appeal on his belief that the court failed to instruct the jury to consider whether the nursing home was negligent in communicating instructions for Boulier’s care to its staff, and it excluded evidence of the nursing home’s subsequent remedial measures despite testimony by nursing home staff that such measures were not feasible.
The nursing home was represented by Christopher C. Taintor of Portland.
According to Hovermale, Boulier, 85, was a resident at the facility and had a document charting her medical needs and requirements, called a “care plan.” While in the bathroom at the nursing home, Boulier fell and suffered injuries that eventually led to her death at a Bangor health care facility in January 2009.
Hovermale said that Boulier, who suffered from dementia, hip problems, had fallen before and was “very frail,” should never have been left alone in the bathroom. He told the Law Court that a certified nurse’s aide who was helping Boulier that day believed that she had to be “in the vicinity,” of the bathroom when the 85-year-old was in there, but not in the bathroom with her. The CNA’s supervisor initially said that the CNA had to be in the bathroom with Boulier, he said, but during the trial said that she “misspoke” and agreed that the CNA only had to be in the area.
The attorney said that the care plan was not communicated effectively so that all staff members understood the instructions and could carry them out as directed.
“There were different interpretations of the care plan,” said Hovermale. “The CNA had one interpretation of the care plan, and the director of nursing had another, and my expert said that someone should have been in the bathroom with the patient, because if she got up, she could fall.But no one knew what the care plan meant.”
Hovermale said he should have been allowed by the court to let the jury decide whether the nursing home was negligent in communicating Boulier’s care plan to its staff.
Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley wondered on Tuesday if the focus of the case should be on whether the care plan for Boulier had been carried out in a professional manner.
Taintor defended the actions of the staff at the nursing home and said that there was no negligence involved in the care of Boulier.