Resident sues Austin nursing home over abuse, photos on social media

Updated May 12, 2017

An Austin nursing home is being sued by an elderly resident who says an employee at the facility posted videos on the internet that show someone smearing feces on her body and face.

An attorney representing 83-year-old Mary McCaughan filed the lawsuit Monday in Travis County state district court, alleging negligence by Regency IHS of Windsor Duval LLC and Regency Integrated Health Services LLC. The woman and her son are asking a judge to award $1 million for damages and court costs.

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The lawsuit says Carlos Alberto Santa Cruz, a certified nurse aide at Windsor Nursing and Rehabilitation Services of Duval, is “a despicable human being who proved himself to be someone who has no business caring for another helpless and defenseless human being.” He allegedly photographed the woman’s naked body and posted video on Snapchat showing someone smearing feces on her. A Snapchat photo shows someone tickling the woman’s nose to make her touch her face with her hand, KVUE-TV reported in March.

McCaughan’s son told the station that his mother has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and can barely move, talk or comprehend what’s going on.

The nursing home should never have hired Cruz, the lawsuit says, because of his criminal history. State records show Santa Cruz has convictions for fraud, marijuana possession and criminal mischief. But his hiring wasn’t the only misstep, the lawsuit says. Rather than notify authorities, the nursing home “lied, denied and covered up the abuse.”

State authorities concluded an initial investigation on March 31, according to a Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman, who said a report will be available to the public once the findings are finalized. Such investigations typically focus on the facility rather than the actions of individuals, the spokeswoman said.

A message left with the facility’s administrator, TJ Helmcamp, wasn’t immediately returned.

The lawsuit comes as state lawmakers are trying to shine light on bad nursing homes after data have shown that many have gotten a free pass from the state government. In fiscal 2016, the state imposed 51 administrative penalties on nursing facilities, which committed 18,089 violations during that time, according to state officials.

Senate Bill 932 has been approved by the Texas Senate and awaits action in the House.