Friday Feb 03, 2023

‘I wonder if there are others’: Statesman reveals another 2021 freeze-related nursing home death – Austin American-Statesman


The urgency of a 911 call ratcheted up about two minutes after it was placed Feb. 15, 2021, from the Parmer Woods assisted living facility in North Austin, on the day that many throughout Texas lost power. 

At first, the caller responded “no” to the dispatcher’s question, “Is she in respiratory distress?” But moments later, the caller acknowledged that 88-year-old Bertha “Cookie” James, a patient at the facility, was “having a hard time breathing.” 

Then, as the dispatcher continued to gather information while EMS medics were en route, someone farther away from the phone shouted, “She can’t breathe!”

By the time the medics arrived, James had died. 

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission opened an investigation into James’ death after receiving inquiries from the American-Statesman about 911 records that indicated someone had died there after experiencing issues with oxygen equipment that required either electricity or batteries.

As a result of the Statesman’s reporting, the commission has now determined that two people died in assisted living facilities as a result of the 2021 Texas freeze — both of them in Austin — across all of Texas.

James’ death highlights the reality that, nearly a year later, some victims of the freeze have gone uncounted — and it’s still unclear how many people lost their lives because of the catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid.

“Relying on self-reports didn’t detect one death,” said Patty Ducayet, ombudsman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. “I wonder if there are others.”

Parmer Woods declined to comment on James’ case.

One year later: How the Texas freeze changed us — and Texas

Nursing home deaths in the freeze

The commission previously said that only one person in a Texas nursing or assisted living facility died as a result of the freeze and power loss. Cynthia Pierce, 73, a resident of the Renaissance Austin assisted living facility in Northwest Austin, died from hypothermia after a staff member left a window open in her room while temperatures dropped below freezing. 

Pierce was autopsied by the Travis County medical examiner’s office, but James was not. James’ death certificate says she died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to her family. 

In James’ case, “there was no history of any recent injuries or medical events, and no evidence of abuse of alcohol or drugs,” said Hector Nieto, spokesman for the medical examiner’s office. “There was no information relayed that the decedent was without oxygen prior to death. There was no evidence of foul play.”

The medical examiner’s limited records of James’ death do mention that her facility had lost power in the middle of the night and that she required “supplemental oxygen and had to switch to portable oxygen.”

After the Statesman …….


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