Families demand answers: 2 beating deaths at separate NJ nursing homes
⚫️ A 91-year-old man at a Westfield nursing home died after a fatal assault by a roommate
⚫️ A South Plainfield woman, also 91, died after a separate nursing home resident assault
⚫️ Nursing home workforce is at levels not seen since 1994
UPDATE: Criminal charges filed
Two 91-year-old New Jersey residents died within a day of each other, both after being violently struck by other residents at separate nursing home facilities in Central Jersey.
Clara Sutkowski died on Jan. 19, three days after her family said she was struck in the head by a fellow 81-year-old resident at AristaCare at Cedar Oaks in South Plainfield.
Herman Walker died the following day, according to TapInto, after his family said he was attacked two weeks earlier in his bed by a roommate at Complete Care in Westfield.
In both cases, the residents were patients being treated for dementia, according to Sutkowski’s family, a South Plainfield police report and a News 12 report on Walker’s death.
The assisted living facilities are owned and operated by different companies in neighboring counties.
No charges had been filed in either case as of Thursday — as they remained under investigation by local police and the respective county prosecutors.
The two harrowing deaths of elderly residents comes as a national survey of more than 500 nursing home providers shows a critical staffing shortage has only grown worse.
91-year-old woman’s death, after being hit by resident at South Plainfield facility
Sutkowski had been walking past the other resident’s room on Jan. 16 when the fatal attack happened, according to her great-niece, Nicole Kupco.
The man, known to have a history of combative behavior, grabbed Sutkowski and struck her, knocking her to the floor, according to a South Plainfield police report filed in the incident.
A brain bleed proved to be untreatable and she died within days at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, her death ruled a homicide by the county medical examiner.
While citing “HIPAA privacy laws” in not addressing specific details about its residents, AristaCare expressed sympathy for Sutkowski, though not by name.
“We regard all our residents as part of our extended family, we grieve for the loss of one of our cherished residents and we extend our deepest condolences to the family,” according to a written statement from AristaCare Health Services CEO Sidney Greenberger.
“We also remain committed to providing our support and full cooperation to the authorities who are presently investigating the circumstances surrounding this event.”
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed that it is investigating the incident.
91-year-old man’s assault by Westfield nursing home roommate proves fatal
In Westfield, the incident at the Complete Care facility that left Walker fatally hurt was reported to township police on Jan. 4 around 5:30 a.m.
Walker was hospitalized for about two weeks before ultimately dying of injuries after the apparent assault by a 61-year-old man as reported by News 12 — which also said both men had dementia.
The surviving patient no longer lives at the long-term housing facility.
Walker’s family has created a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for their relative’s funeral, as they said the steep expenses of his assisted living care left his bank account drained.
A letter sent to families of Complete Care residents on Jan. 21 by administrator Asher Jacobs, described “an incident occurred on Jan. 4 between two residents that resulted in one resident’s need for outside medical attention.”
“Our staff acted swiftly and responsibly in responding to this matter. They followed established policies, procedures, and protocols to ensure resident safety,” Jacobs also said, adding “Resident safety and wellbeing are our top priorities.”
The apparent assault remained under investigation by both the Westfield Police Department’s Detective Bureau and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
Walker's granddaughter, Naliah Eden said to News 12 that the men had shared the room since September, with no previous incidents, while noting that her grandfather was in his bed when he was beaten by the other man.
Overwhelming majority of nursing homes are facing critical staffing shortages in 2023
As of this month, 84% of nursing homes were facing moderate to high levels of staffing shortages, according to a “State of the Nursing Home Industry” carried out by the American Health Care Association.
The analysis released in January was based on a survey of 524 nursing home providers nationwide, with no state-by-state breakdown.
The nursing home workforce is at levels not seen since 1994, according to the report, which cited a lack of interested or qualified candidates is the biggest obstacle for nursing homes in hiring new staff.
The AHCA entails state healthcare organizations that collectively oversee about 14,000 nursing homes and assisted-living communities.
Families of victims demanding answers
In both cases, the families of Sutkowski and Walker have been left heartbroken and looking for answers and accountability.
Sutkowski was remembered fondly by Kupko, her great-niece, as having a great love for family and friends, cooking and taking care of stray cats before being moved into assisted living.
"Family made her happy. She was always happy, always smiling, generous and always kind," Kupco said.
In an interview with News 12, Eden said she was disappointed in her grandfather's violent end, saying “He was a good person. He was a great grandfather, and he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
“He was very spunky and full of life he loved making jokes," she separately said to TapInto, adding Walker had moved to NJ from South Carolina in the 1950s.
The GoFundMe campaign has asked for help to honor Walker's "last wish for his final resting place to be South Carolina," adding "All he talked about in his final days was to 'go home'."
Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at email@example.com
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