UPDATE: Probe underway in death of woman found outside nursing home

UPDATE: Probe underway in death of woman found outside nursing home

CHAMPAIGN — An 89-year-old woman who was found dead outside a Champaign nursing home this weekend was a frequent wanderer inside the facility, according to the family member of a fellow patient.

The victim, identified as Annette White of Champaign, was found outside Helia Healthcare, 1915 S. Mattis Ave., C, a facility the state has fined three times in the past 11 months for violations.

Ms. White was pronounced dead at Helia at 12:11 a.m. Dec. 31, according to Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.

The daughter of a former patient from last year said she was heartbroken to read about Ms. White’s death.

Suzanne Hunter of Champaign said she saw Ms. White frequently when she made daily visits to see her mother, who was at Helia from mid-August to mid-November as a rehab patient following a stroke.

Ms. White often seemed confused, and she had a tendency to wander through corridors and into other patients' rooms, Hunter said.

"She was looking for her daughter all the time, looking to go home," she said.

Many times, Hunter said, she gave Ms. White chocolate that she loved and would turn her around when she was heading for the doors.

To get outdoors requires going through two doors, and an alarm that makes a loud "piercing" sound would be activated when a door was opened without a code being entered, she said.

It’s unknown how long Ms. White was outdoors in the bitter cold. She was last seen at dinnertime Saturday, Northrup said.

"She got outside the building somehow," he said.

Exposure to the cold is suspected to be a contributing factor in her death, said Northrup, who added that the preliminary investigation didn’t identify any obvious signs of trauma. Because of the effect temperatures that low have on the body, it will be difficult to say exactly when she died, he said.

Ms. White wasn't necessarily outdoors the entire time after dinner until she was discovered, he said, but at this point, he's narrowed the time of death to within a few hours. An autopsy was set for Tuesday afternoon.

The investigation is being conducted by the coroner's office, Champaign police and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Helia Healthcare of Champaign provides skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long-term care services. The Champaign facility is one of Helia’s 12 sites in Illinois and Missouri, according to the Oak Park-based chain's website.

Helia Healthcare of Champaign has a 1-star rating from Medicare. Its single star on Medicare's five-star scale means it's been rated overall as much below average, based on its health inspections, quality and staffing.

IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said Helia Healthcare of Champaign was assessed three fines — each for $2,200 — all for type-"B" violations as a result of surveys on Feb. 29, 2016, and Aug. 30 and Nov. 13, 2017. State law classifies type "AA" violations as the most serious, followed in severity by "A," then "B," then "C" violations.

Julia Beals, director of nursing at the Champaign nursing home, declined to answer questions about the death, saying information would be shared when it was available.

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Jayjay wrote on January 03, 2018 at 4:01 am

I believe the nursing home administration should be held accountable for this woman’s death. They are ultimately tasked with the overall safety and security of the facility. I am positive though the the nursing home administrators will find some poor CNA or tech to use as a scapegoat. I encourage people to go to Helia’s website to voice your concern, as this could have been anyone’s loved one. 

RatDog wrote on January 03, 2018 at 12:01 pm

The facility is probably perpetually understaffed with care givers because nursing facilities pay them squat. The quality of applicants & hirees is very low & the turn over rate is very high. Arrogant nurses don't 'stoop so low' to perform any of the duties of CNA's even during frequent staffing shortages. The families of patients would be shocked to know of the lousy quality of care & the incompetence of managment in most nursing facilities today. The state should inspect these places & review their licenses twice a year. These places can cost $5,000 & more per month. They can afford to pay CNA's a decent wage, say $20/hour, for the difficult, noble & important job they have but the facilities wont do it.

Jayjay wrote on January 03, 2018 at 4:01 pm

cwdog57 wrote on January 04, 2018 at 1:01 pm

many years ago my mother was there at the same nursing home under the name of champaign care center. she called me after 24 hrs to come get her,refusing to stay there. when i went to get her they would not allow her to leave with me unless there was a doctors order. she had voluntarily entered the nursing home and was not ill, just had some cronic health issues but nothing serious. at that time i told the nursing home administrator they better have a big stick if they thought i was not removing her immediately. she spent the next 7 yrs at the urbana care center. it was equally neglegant and i reported it many times. she refused to leave and ultimiately i feel they were responsible for her death. she was hospitaized twice for dehydration, they broke her false teeth which took months to replace, at ,i might add, their expense. after which her mouth had shrank and were so ill fitting she couldn't use them. i could go on and on about all the negative experiences we had over 7 yrs there but i'll just let your mind take over. they don't treat dogs like that at the humane society and i think i would rather stay there.