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Top 10 Nursing Home Nightmares

by Adam R. Ramos
fact checked by Jamie Frater

It’s an inevitable fact of life that people get old. Many times, age and its changes bring about a need for assistance in day-to-day life. Families unable to provide such care may make the often difficult decision to place their loved one in a nursing home, hoping to keep them safe.

Over 1.5 million people live in nursing homes in the United States alone. Across the 16,000 facilities operating across America, it’s not uncommon for unforeseen mishaps to occur. The following ten, however, delve into the unacceptable. More often than not, the tragedies that have befallen some of society’s most vulnerable citizens were avoidable.

10 Wildlife

In 2016, a 911 operator in Deltona, Florida, received an unusual call from the Sterling Court Gracious Retirement Living center, with reports of staff and elderly residents being viciously attacked. The assailant in the unprovoked rampage was soon identified as a rambunctious squirrel with a penchant for causing mayhem. After biting a woman outside the nursing home, the furry creature made his way indoors, where the assault continued. “It’s jumping on people and biting them and scratching them,” the 911 caller said. “It’s still in there and people are bleeding.”[1]

After the animal’s thirst for blood was quenched, the suspect fled the premises, leaving two residents and a staff member with “serious squirrel bites.” In the days following the attack, the lives of the traumatized victims began to return to normalcy, only for the squirrel to come back with a vengeance. This time, however, a staffer armed with a BB gun shot and killed the squirrel, bringing an end to the chaos.

Such brutality caused by wildlife pales in comparison to what happened to a resident of Brookdale Senior Living Center in South Carolina, also in 2016. While enjoying the scenery of the local pond, 90-year-old Bonnie Walker was torn apart after being attacked by an alligator. What was left of her remains was removed from the pond after staffers had realized that Walker was missing from the facility. The alligator was removed as well.

9 Mass Poisoning

Christmas 1981 was anything but festive at the Shady Lane Home in New Jersey, when 120 residents and staff members became violently ill as a result of food poisoning. Laboratory tests by state investigators found that eggnog served on Christmas Eve was contaminated with salmonella, leading to the deaths of four residents. A similar outbreak of salmonella food poisoning occurred earlier that same year, when in July, the bacteria killed five elderly women and sickened 48 others at a Minnesota nursing home.

Perhaps the most negligent case of mass poisoning occurred in 2012 at the Gold Age Villa in Loomis, California, after a caregiver used toxic wild mushrooms for the facility’s soup of the day. In the end, two were dead, and four others were left gravely ill.[2]

8 $15 Million Error

In November 1999, a massive explosion at the Clara Barton Convalescence Center left the Michigan nursing home in ruins. Shortly before 9:00 PM, an explosion in the boiler room caused the center section of the building to collapse, trapping countless residents and staff beneath the rubble. As emergency crews arrived, fire swept through what remained of the building. Over the next 12 hours, five elderly residents would die of their injuries, with an additional 20 admitted to the hospital in critical condition.

It was determined that boiler supports in the nursing home’s basement collapsed, causing the gas main to rupture, which led to the blast. In the months that followed, family members of the deceased filed a lawsuit against several companies involved in the maintenance and inspection of the boilers as well as the owners of the building and the grounds. Eventually, all parties agreed to settle out of court to a sum of $15 million.[3]

7 Eerie Dwellings

It’s no wonder that people feel uneasy about the thought of touring an abandoned nursing home, given the number of lives that have passed through such establishments over the years. Those who believe in the paranormal are particularly prone to the belief that such grounds are haunted by the souls of former residents. Case in point, Standon Hall, which was built in England in 1910, is notable for bearing witness to “extreme poltergeist activity.”

Tooele Hospital, which still operates as a nursing home in Utah, is reportedly haunted by three different ghosts: a man in black, a nurse in white, and the ghost of a little girl who has been seen time and again in the facility’s conference room.

Perhaps one of the more eerie dwellings is that of Malvern Manor in Iowa. Originally built as a hotel in the 1880s, records indicate that a 12-year-old girl committed suicide by hanging herself in a closet in 1900. Nearly 50 years later, the hotel was converted into a nursing home and operated as such for decades prior to the building becoming abandoned. Since then, rumors of strange happenings, such as unaccounted-for footsteps, voices, shadows, moans, and screams, have been experienced by countless people examining the premises.[4]

6 A Costly Mix-Up

At the Carriage-by-the-Lake nursing home in Dayton, Ohio, a mix-up in inventory caused quite the stir, leading to the hospitalization and deaths of several residents in 2000. Firefighters were called to the scene when an in-house oxygen delivery system was accidentally hooked up to a nitrogen tank. All the affected residents were in the same wing of the 84-bed nursing facility and were sharing the same oxygen—or in this case, nitrogen—system.

One by one, the residents became ill, leading to the discovery of the error. Despite the fact that both tanks were clearly labeled, investigators ruled out criminal intent, given that the tanks looked very similar to one another. By the time rescue crews arrived, several of the residents had already fallen into cardiac arrest. 70-year-old Pauline Tays was pronounced dead at the scene, while Helen Tomlin, 76, died while being transported to the hospital.[5]

One other resident died a short time later, and eight others were hospitalized in critical or serious condition. In the end, the unacceptable mishap was deemed an accident. The nursing home released a statement claiming that they would be terminating its contract with their oxygen supplier, BOC Gases.

5 Training Accident

Photo credit: AFP/Guillaume Souvant

As if spending the rest of your days in a nursing facility isn’t bad enough, imagine a jet crashing straight into your living room. That is exactly what happened in Vouvray, France, when an Dassault/Dornier Alpha military training jet crashed into a home for the disabled and elderly that housed around 75 female residents.[6] The French Air Force stated that the jet had been in the Vouvray region of Central France on a night exercise with an instructor and trainee pilot on board.

The reason for the 2014 crash has yet to be explained, despite a “full and transparent investigation.” What is known is that prior to the colossal accident, the pilot and student ejected and parachuted to safety after making for “a dark area that appeared to be uninhabited.” Little did they know that their error would seriously maim several residents and cost the life of a 63-year-old woman who had been living in the nursing home for several years.

4 Trapped Within

Photo credit: KTVT

As Hurricane Rita approached the Houston region in September 2005, the Brighton Gardens nursing home was taking all precautions to safely evacuate 37 patients on a chartered bus. 15 hours later, the bus was engulfed in flames on the side of Interstate 45 with 24 seniors trapped inside. As emergency crews frantically rushed to the inferno to save the hysterical, screaming passengers within, the bus exploded without warning following the ignition of a passenger’s oxygen tank. The victims, whose bodies were found in the middle of the bus, were so badly burned that the Dallas County medical examiner had to rely on dental records for a proper identification.[7]

All six crew members survived, including the bus driver, 37-year-old Juan Robles Gutierrez, who was taken into federal custody on an immigration violation five days after the explosion. According to District Attorney Bill Hill, Gutierrez was being charged with criminally negligent homicide, given that he failed his responsibility to safely transport the patients to their final destination. In the end, it was determined that the faulty bus was taken out of service two months prior, only to be allowed back into operation in order to make as many commercial vehicles as possible available for the hurricane evacuation.

3 Animal House

The real nightmare that is ravaging nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the United States is not due to unforeseen tragedies but the mental picture that is instilled following grotesque news reports. Aside from the typical extracurricular activities one would expect from the elderly, bingo and crossword puzzles have taken a backseat to the growing trend of unprotected sex. Due to this, STDs in nursing homes and retirement communities are spreading like wildfire.[8]

According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, half of men and 40 percent of women aged 60 and older are sexually active. In addition, older men who use Viagra are six times less likely to use condoms compared with men in their twenties, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This has led to chlamydia infections among Americans 65 and over to increase by 31 percent and syphilis by 52 percent between 2007 and 2011.

It is evident that seniors did not get the safe sex memo. Take, for example, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, a nursing home in the Bronx that is known to get quite wild after dark. An 85-year-old resident blissfully informed The New York Times about the sexual escapades she’s been having with her new boyfriend, stating, “I enjoyed it and he was a very good lover.” In this case, love is truly blind.

2 Arsenic And Old Lace

Photo credit: Wikimedia

In 1907, Amy Archer-Gilligan opened the Archer Home for Aged People in Windsor, Connecticut, where she became a fixture in the community. Despite her involvement with the local church, residents became suspicious over the unnecessarily large quantities of arsenic that Amy was purchasing to control “a rat problem” at the nursing home. This, along with the fact that 60 residents had died in a span of nine years, sparked an investigation, not by local law enforcement but by the daily newspaper, the Hartford Courant.

The reporting on Amy’s suspicious behavior ultimately led to her arrest in 1916 as well as the exhumation of more than two dozen former nursing home residents, all of whom were found to contain traces of arsenic in their systems. In order to avoid the death sentence, Amy pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and received a sentence of life in prison. In time, she was transferred to a mental institution, where she died at the age of 89 in 1962.

Morbidly enough, New York playwright Joseph Kesselring took Amy’s story and turned it into a Broadway comedy titled Arsenic and Old Lace. In 1944, the play was adapted for the silver screen under the same name by Frank Capra, starring Cary Grant.[9]

1 Mass Casualties

Photo credit: Warren County Record

On a Sunday afternoon in February 1957, residents at the Warrenton Nursing Home, or the Katie Jane Memorial Home for the Aged, were enjoying a pleasant church service when a deadly fire broke out in the two-and-a-half-story facility. Within 20 minutes, the old brick building was engulfed in flames. As firefighters arrived at the scene, residents were jumping from the second-story windows, while countless others remained trapped inside with no fire escape, sprinkler system, or evacuation plan in place. In all, 72 residents were killed in what is now considered one of the worst nursing home tragedies in the nation’s history. Of the 72 victims, 14 who remained unidentified were placed in a common grave in the Warrenton Cemetery.[10]

A similar tragedy occurred six years later on November 23, 1963, when a fire killed 63 people at the Golden Age Nursing Home in Fitchville, Ohio. The majority of residents killed had been restrained to their beds or trapped behind wheelchairs that were too wide for the exits. Sadly, their deaths were overshadowed and forgotten due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous day.

Adam is just a hubcap trying to hold on in the fast lane.


Read more terrible instances of caregiver failing to do their job on 10 Nightmarish Breaches Of Trust By Health Care Professionals and 10 Tragic Cases Of Children Murdered By Social Workers.

fact checked by Jamie Frater