Western State Hospital charged with abuse and neglect of Alzheimer's patient

Nicole Elger

WPAS and the family of Gordon Enbusk, a retired dairy farmer and World War II veteran, have filed a wrongful death suit against Western State Hospital (WSH), charging that Enbusk was neglected and abused while a patient there. According to Randal Brown, WPAS Managing Attorney, Enbusk's stay at the hospital was "a 34-day nightmare in hell" that ended in his death.

Enbusk, who had Alzheimer's disease, was admitted to WSH in August 1994 because Frontier Nursing Home was no longer able to care for him. Enbusk's family was hopeful about the move, having heard that the hospital s geriatric unit had an excellent program for individuals with Alzheimer's.

Upon his admission to WSH, Enbusk was in good health and well nourished, according to his initial medical exam. During his stay, however, Enbusk's condition deteriorated rapidly.

His wife, Jeanne, noticed a dramatic weight loss, an untreated wound on his elbow, numerous bruises and open sores, and the loss of his ability to walk. She and other family members complained to the hospital and filed patient grievances with regards to his care.

Prompted by Mrs. Enbusk's concerns about her husband's treatment at WSH, Frontier Nursing Home staff went to the hospital for a visit, and were shocked by what they found.

Assistant Administrator Candy Hayes and Social Worker Andi Heuer said Enbusk's elbow was "marked by an open wound that appeared to go to the bone and was infected." They also noted bed sores and anal bruising "consistent with rape." Hayes and Heuer also filed complaints with the hospital.

A month after his arrival at WSH, Enbusk was 25 pounds lighter and barely recognizable. Frontier Nursing Home staff and Mrs. Enbusk took him from WSH and brought him to Longview Hospital. Enbusk died 10 days later. The cause of death was listed as Alzheimer's, but no autopsy was performed.

Longview Hospital social workers and nurses called WPAS for assistance shortly after Enbusk's death. Following a thorough investigation, WPAS concluded that WSH "failed to respond to Enbusk's needs or protect him from harm, thereby contributing to his death."

The nursing supervisor at WSH, Tessie Cuerva, conducted an internal investigation and concluded that Enbusk's own actions had caused his bruising, not any wrongdoing on the part of hospital staff. According to the WPAS investigation team, however, the hospital's self-examination was flawed and inadequate.

"There is little doubt from the evidence gathered in this investigation that the allegations of abuse and neglect made by family and friends are substantiated," said Brown.

While the lawsuit filed by WPAS and the Enbusk family in July asks for financial compensation as "damages for wrongful death," the case is not about money.

"We want to use his experience as a platform so no one else will experience what he did," Brown said. "We hope to bring about changes in policy and law."