A video camera hidden inside MetroHealth's nursing home caught a nurse's aide abusing a patient as well as other possible mistreatment by additional employees of the county-run facility. The incidents are recorded on numerous videotapes obtained exclusively by Channel 3 News.
The footage has prompted both criminal and regulatory investigations as well as questions about whether MetroHealth ignored complaints by Steve Piskor that his 78-year-old mother was being mistreated at the Prentiss Center for Skilled Nursing Care on Cleveland's West Side.
Piskor installed the camera in April to prove his mother Esther, who suffers from advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease, was being mistreated.
"MetroHealth said I was taking things out of context and taking it too far," Piskor said. "They made me out to be the trouble maker, the complainer, the bad guy. ... The administrator at one point told me accidents happen and mistakes are made."
The videos show a nurse's aide striking the patient's face, violently throwing the patient into her bed and wheelchair, and pushing the patient's face into the wall.
Other clips show a different nurse's aide striking the patient as a fellow employee looks on without intervention as well as other questionable treatment.
The Investigator Tom Meyer asked the head of a nursing home watchdog agency to review the video.
"That's abuse, that's poor care -- nobody should have to suffer like that," said Susan Griffin, the executive director of the Long Term Care Ombudsman that investigates nursing home abuse. "The obvious abuse to me is they slapped her ... they jerked her around. They could have hurt her very badly. I'm surprised they didn't looking at that (video)."
MetroHealth fired two nurse's aides for inappropriate care after receiving the videos on May 27 and disciplined a third nurse's aide for failing to report patient abuse she witnessed, officials said.
"We're incredibly sorry that this happened," said Dr. James Campbell, who oversees geriatric care at MetroHealth. "This is not anything that should be happening anywhere and definitely not at Metro at the Prentiss Center."
One nurse's aide has already been charged. Virgen Caraballo of Cleveland was charged with felony assault on May 17 -- a day after Channel 3 News contacted them regarding the videos. Cleveland police continue to investigate the conduct of other nurse's aides.
"She's abusing my mother," said Piskor. "How many other people is she abusing? What is she doing?"
Channel 3 news obtained inspection reports from the state Department of Health. Inspectors cited the nursing home earlier this month for "failing to prevent abuse and mistreatment from occurring." The inspection said the facility's administrator "verified that 'abuse did occur'" and indicated other state-tested nursing aides are also involved.
Piskor said he told administrators months ago that his mother, Esther, had an unexplained red mark on her face and that she was raising her hands toward her face in a protective manner when he approached. He also complained that workers were leaving the window open and turning off the heat in the dead of winter.
Frustrated, Piskor purchased a camera that is hidden inside a fan and placed it on his mother's dresser in early April. He also put up a sign warning workers that a camera had been installed in the room. And, he continued his daily visits to see his mother.
Piskor said it took only a few days to capture potential abuse. But he let the camera roll for two months before taking the videos to the nursing home because he didn't want MetroHealth to dismiss the abuse as an isolated incident.
Campbell denied that Piskor's previous complaints were ignored. He said each complaint was investigated by the hospital as well as the state Department of Health and Senior Services, but no wrongdoing was uncovered.
"The unfortunate part is those investigations didn't reveal what this video has now revealed," Campbell said. "With 20-20 hindsight, I sure as heck wish we'd have done something sooner." [see full statement from Dr. Campbell by clicking here]
MetroHealth has hired an outside firm to investigate the incidents as well as the nursing home's policies and procedures to make sure the abuse doesn't happen again, the hospital said.
Piskor said the videos have ripped the heart out of his family.
"I ... showed it to my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews," Piskor said. "I only showed them two videos and they got so upset they were actually crying."