Disturbing hidden camera footage kept secret for three years shows a dying World War II veteran gasping for air and calling to help in an Atlanta nursing home as attending nurses ignored his pleas and fumbled with his oxygen tank, Georgia NBC News affiliate WXIA reports.
The video shows 89-year-old James Dempsey pleading for help before his death in the care of the for-profit Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation Center in February 2014. In the footage, recorded through a nanny-cam planted by his son Tim amid suspicions of mistreatment, Dempsey can be heard crying, “Help me! Help me! I can’t breathe.”
In the footage, one nurse is seen merely repositioned Dempsey, ignoring his pleas for help. She later returned with a second nurse and supervisor to find Dempsey unresponsive; the three are then shown mishandling the vet’s oxygen and cackling at their mistakes before switching to a few, inconsistent attempts at CPR.
The new video, published WXIA on Nov. 18, is damning. Dempsey’s family sued the nursing home following his death, and according to WXIA, part of the settlement agreement included the release six hours of video court deposition from the supervisor “explaining how she responded to the patient before she knew the hidden camera video existed” — an account completely contradicted by the newly-released secret footage.
The footage only became public after a DeKalb County judge rejected the nursing home’s legal attempts to keep the video sealed from public view. Two nursing home employees implicated in the video were not dismissed by the facility until 10 months after the footage was first recorded; according to the Associated Press, the employees didn’t even surrender their state nursing licenses until September 2017, when the NBC News affiliate “sent The Georgia Board of Nursing a link to the video.”
The Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation Center is still open. In a statement, the operator Sava Senior Care told said they were “saddened by the events, which occurred more than three years ago.”
“[The] New leadership and the leadership team and the staff have worked very diligently to improve quality care and the quality of life for our residents,” Sava told WXIA. “The facility recently was deficiency-free during our recent annual inspection conducted by the Georgia Department of Health on May 25, 2017.”
A 2016 report on elder abuse and the U.S.’s aging veteran population found that instances of neglect and mistreatment are woefully underreported among vets, primarily due to a lack of consistent screening and intervention procedures across the VA health system. In private healthcare facilities, vets are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation due to their increased risk of physical and mental disorders and lack of consistent support systems.
“We would have just thought it was natural causes and everything was done that should have been done and he passed away in his sleep,” Dempsey’s son Tim told Atlanta’s WSB-TV in December 2015. “You would never [think] that people would just let a person die,”