ROCHELLE (WREX) -
A Rochelle nursing home is in the middle of a lawsuit, after a woman says negligence led to her mother's death. That woman shared her story with 13 WREX. She calls it her nursing home horror story. But the nursing home calls what happened a freak accident.
For five years, Dolores Hummel called Rochelle Rehabilitation and Health Care Center home. Her daughter, Gayle Linden, said at first the facility was great and Dolores was happy. That all started to change in May 2013.
"We were getting disgusted with things being stolen, clothes being stolen, food being stolen. Just the quality of care going down. the good nurses aids were leaving," said Linden.
One month later their concerns turned to devastation.
"My mother was screaming, 'help me, help me'," said Linden.
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) records say nurses noticed Dolores needed some oxygen so a nurse grabbed an oxygen canister and hooked the tubing up to her face. Then. left the room. Moments later IDPH documents say Dolores began screaming, "Help me. Get it off". A nurse says "...The canister was spewing a white substance that looked like snow... (Hummel's) "left ear, both cheeks, and under her nose were fire red."
Pure liquid oxygen was burning Dolores at negative 297 degrees. Despite second degree burns she was not taken to the hospital. Gayle rushed to the nursing home to see her mother two days after the incident, when her sister called her telling her how serious their mother's injuries were.
"She could barely talk, her tongue and lips were so swollen. You could barely make out what she was saying," said Linden.
Gayle took pictures showing the burns on her mother's face. But it's unclear whether Dolores suffered any internal damage by breathing in the liquid oxygen. A physician ordered chest x-rays, but IDPH says the facility never did them.
Five days after the incident, Dolores died. But a physician quoted in IDPH records said, "This was a horrible situation for (Hummel) to experience. This was not likely the cause of her death, but it did cause her discomfort on her face."
Gayle says the pain from the incident led her mother to an early grave.
"I in my heart truly believe this lady would have lived to be her 100th birthday, which was August 26 and which was her goal, if this horrific, horrific negligence hadn't happened to her," she said.
According to state documents, staff didn't know how to use liquid oxygen and the facility didn't train its staff properly to use liquid oxygen. 13 WREX reached out to the nursing home for comment. Our calls were not returned, but in the IDPH documents an administrator calls the incident a "freak accident".
Gayle says it was negligence. So she hired an attorney who specializes in nursing home neglect cases and who also happens to be a registered nurse, Cynthia Koroll. Koroll says Gayle has a case of nursing home neglect and she's not the only one.
"I have seen residents with toes that ended up being amputated," said Koroll. "I see a great percentage of falls. We also see very significant bed sores. Bed sores that are down to the bone."
Koroll couldn't talk specifics about Gayle's lawsuit but says anyone with a loved one in a nursing home needs to speak up and make their voice heard when it comes to nursing home care.
"We're talking about our aged, we're talking about a geriatric population, a disabled population that can't speak for themselves and can't care for themselves," Koroll said.
Gayle says this lawsuit is her last way to speak up for her mother.
"She was a very lovely lady, she did not (deserve) to die this horrific death," she said.
Experts say it's key to know what's going on inside a loved ones nursing home. You can do that by being involved, visiting often and getting to know the staff.
The Rochelle facility told the IDPH it's taking steps to make sure what happened that day in June 2013 doesn't happen again. It has created an oxygen fill log and is making sure staff are properly filling and positioning the tanks.