More Mid-South families come forward with allegations against Memphis nursing home

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 is continuing to investigate allegations into a Memphis nursing home trusted to care for our most vulnerable neighbors.

After FOX13 interviewed a woman who said she believed a nursing home was responsible for her uncle’s death, more families came forward to talk about their experiences with the same facility.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Memphis nursing home under investigation for allegations of elder abuse

We first told you about Monique Bethany, who said she believes a nursing home was responsible for her uncle Jerome Powell’s death.

She said she was told by first responders that employees at the Signature HealthCare of Primacy showed no urgency in getting her uncle to the hospital after he was found unconscious.

A police report also says officers noticed the man seemed thin and was having trouble breathing.

Since FOX13 reported on that story, several other families across the Mid-South have contacted our newsroom with similar stories about the same nursing home.

FOX13 spoke with two more on record who both said their loved ones were taken to Signature Health for rehab.

Because of COVID, they weren’t able to visit them in person for two weeks.

But, when they did get to see them, both family members said their loved ones were dirty, unkept and thin.

“She was not gone enough to tell me that she wanted out of there, and don’t ever send me back,” Judy Liberto said.

That’s the last memory Liberto has of her mother, 95-year-old Melba Phelps, begging to never return to Signature HealthCARE of Primacy.

Liberto said her mother was a resident there for just two weeks before a staff member told her she was being taken to the hospital.

“When I saw her, her head was all sunken and her hair was standing up and she had a huge gash in her leg that was bandaged that I didn’t even know about,” she said.

“His face was dirty, he had crust in his eyes, and he was looking malnourished,” Shirrley Amerson said.

Shortly after, Liberto filed a federal complaint against the nursing facility, expressing concerns over her mother’s treatment.

The Tennessee Department of Health conducted an investigation but told Liberto the nursing home was found to be in compliance.

Still, that’s not the only story shared with FOX13.

“His face was dirty, he had crust in his eyes, and he was looking malnourished,” Shirrley Amerson said.

Amerson said she removed her brother Larry Hudson from the facility’s care back in September after he told her he hadn’t eaten in several days.

“He was like ‘Those folks didn’t do nothing to me, I hadn’t taken a bath.’ I said, ‘Did you do your physical therapy?’ And he said, ‘No physical therapy at all.’”

Amerson’s brother died from unrelated medical reasons three months later.

FOX13 also spoke to the family of Earnest Biggs Sr, who died in May 2021.

“He just seemed so weak,” said Earnest Biggs, about his father. “He wasn’t like himself at all.”

Biggs said what started as a two-week rehabilitation stay for his father after a leg surgery quickly went downhill.

“He would express himself but he seemed so worn out and tired, I don’t think he’d been eating or if he’s not eating, I don’t think they took the time to help him eat.”

Biggs said they discharged his father on May 10 of last year. He died in a hospital just hours later.

Biggs said this was after the family had to step in and beg for him to be taken to the emergency room.

Afterward, they got an autopsy done. According to the family, medical officials ultimately found no traces of medication in his stomach.

“He had high blood pressure, he took a lot of medicine, he had maybe 20 different bottles, he needed them, but for him to say he had no signs of it, I just knew I had a case,” said Biggs.

Biggs said although it’s been eight months since his father’s death, he felt the need to speak up and prevent more families from going through this too.

“It will continue to happen. It’s just terrible for anyone to send your parents there thinking they’re gonna get rehab and it’s the other way around,” Biggs said.

FOX13 reached out to the nursing home, which referred us to their corporate office.

A spokeswoman said they are unable to release details on specific incidents or patients due to federal medical privacy laws, but did say the health and safety of all of residents is top priority.

She said it’s important to remember allegations are just that until proven or disproved.

The company sent FOX13 this statement:

“Signature healthcare of primacy deeply mourns the loss of any of its beloved residents, for any reason. It is simply devastating, and our administration works to keep an open line of communication with family and our residents’ responsible parties, as they go through this difficult time.”

As for Liberto, the memory of her mother will live on.

“These are people that are important to us. We’re not putting them in there to die, we’re putting them in there to make them better so we can take them home,” Liberto said.

Both of the family members said they were the primary advocate for their loved ones in the home.

The Tennessee Department of Health shows there were four federal complaints filed against Signature HealthCARE of primacy in the last year.

While it’s not clear what those allegations claimed, all the inspections into them found the facility to be in compliance.

Signature HealthCARE offered the following statement in response to FOX13′s investigation.

Signature HealthCARE’s top priority is our residents health and well-being. Accordingly, we take the hiring and training of our staff very seriously – from the moment they walk in the door, and continually throughout their career with us. We also:

· Conduct background checks on all staff hires, as well as check them against any elder abuse charges in the national database

· Provide resident care and abuse education on an ongoing basis

· Have a 24/7 call line available for families to inquire about their loved ones care – at any time, day or night

· Make the Ombudsman/State information available to anyone to report concerns to have an external agency investigate

Our Signature HealthCARE of Primacy facility has met and continues to meet all state and federal requirements for nursing homes. In fact, Signature HealthCARE of Primacy’s score is among the top in the industry and the facility has a 3 star CMS rating and a 4 star Google rating.

We strongly encourage all of our families to contact us, at any time, with concerns they have. As mentioned above, our 24/7 call line, called the CAREline, is available to all our families from the beginning. Unfortunately, FOX 13 is reporting on families who chose to use the media, instead of continuing the lines of communication with us, which we hold as a priority in the care and relationship with our residents and families. We hope they will call and talk to us – we’d welcome the opportunity to listen.