Suspect arrested in Ole Miss student’s death

Reports against Poplar Oaks rehab center allege neglect, abuse of patients

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COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. -- A Memphis woman is upset about how her mother was treated at a Collierville nursing home.

She claims she was neglected and abused at the Poplar Oaks Rehabilitation Center for about a year.

That name may sound familiar because WREG has reported on issues there before.

Hazel Smith knows how it feels seeing a loved one in pain.

“It was heartbreaking," said Smith. "It was really heartbreaking.”

She says her 58-year-old mother Diane was a patient at Poplar Oaks Rehabilitation Center for about a year.

“It was constantly on my mind. Every day. I would have some sleepless nights worrying about her.”

Diane is paralyzed from ALS. She can no longer talk due to a tracheostomy, but Smith says she can still communicate.

“She would tell me they would cuss her out they would hit her and yank her, and I noticed she always wanted me to wash her because they wasn’t cleaning her."

She says earlier this month, a nurse called to say her mom wasn’t doing well and brought up end-of-life options.

When Smith rushed to the center, she says someone had turned down her ventilator, so she called an ambulance.

After two weeks at a Germantown hospital, Diane went back to Poplar Oaks feeling better. But SMithsays her breathing problems quickly returned, causing her to call police.

The report details accusations of neglect and no air conditioning on her mom’s floor.

“She’s drenching with sweat, just sweating and sweating. I’m like, I want a paramedic to come and pick her up.”

Smith says management then kicked her mom out of the nursing home for good.

She says there aren’t a lot of options since Spring Gate in Raleigh is the only other rehabilitation center in the area that does trach care.

So Diane stayed at Germantown hospital while she waited for somewhere else to open up.

While there, they found out she developed five bed sores at Poplar Oaks.

The pictures are too graphic to show clearly.

“It was like, 'Oh my God, I didn’t even know it was like this because Poplar Oaks said she didn’t have any — that she had one, but it got better.'”

We dug into Poplar Oaks’ federal records and found they have a one-star rating.

They were cited three times after a health inspection in March. That’s an improvement from when they were cited 17 times last year.

Reports show more than a quarter of short-stay residents are re-hospitalized after being admitted there — an average nearly 10 percent higher than the state’s.

And 42 percent of short-stay residents are successfully released to the community, which is 16 percent less than the state average.

“It’s just bad. Bad,” Smith said.

Poplar Oaks does have more short-stay residents who improve in their ability to move around on their own compared to the state and national average.

However, there have been several police reports filed against them in recent years.

One in June said an employee intentionally pushed on a patient’s fractured ribs and laughed.

Another in March said an employee took away a patient’s call button so they couldn’t call for help.

Then last November, a family said employees didn’t change their loved one’s soiled undergarments and gave her improper medication, which made her sick.

Several reports also accuse employees of yelling and cursing at patients.

Smith said she also witnessed that kind of behavior.

“I feel like they treated her like an animal, like a dog, and most people treat animals better than they have treated her,” Smith said.

Her mom’s since been sent to a nursing home in Chattanooga. The distance is a burden.

“To me, it’s just heartbreaking because I feel that I can’t be her voice because I’m five hours away and if something happened to her, I couldn’t do anything.”

She hopes she’ll be back in better health soon.

Orianna Health System, the parent company for Poplar Oaks, responded a day after our story aired, saying they couldn't comment on an individual case but that the company strongly denied allegations of abuse and neglect. Their complete statement is below:

"Due to health care privacy laws, Poplar Oaks Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center is unable to comment regarding the care provided to any particular resident. Poplar Oaks strongly denies any and all allegations of abuse and neglect and other events that were reported by Channel 3 yesterday.
Poplar Oaks provides care to residents with complicated medical conditions, and is one of only a few skilled nursing centers in the Memphis market to offer ventilator care for patients who require it. Poplar Oaks takes all resident concerns and grievances seriously. All complaints are thoroughly investigated with the intent of achieving an acceptable resolution for all parties. Poplar Oaks continues to provide quality care to its residents in a safe and compassionate manner, using skilled, professional, and dedicated nursing staff and support personnel. Poplar Oaks has been and continues to be in compliance with all applicable State and Federal regulations."

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