An elderly resident at a Chaska nursing home suffered severe burns and died after falling into a tub of scalding laundry water, according to a state Health Department report that faults the home’s staff for leaving a laundry door open and unattended.
Allene M. Hookom, a longtime Eden Prairie resident who had Alzheimer’s, died from what the medical examiner ruled were “thermal injuries,” according to police records released Wednesday.
State Health Department investigators concluded that the operators of Auburn Manor were negligent when the 90-year-old resident, known to wander throughout the facility, ended up on her back in a few inches of 155-degree waste water on Dec. 31.
In its report, the state determined that staff left a laundry room door open with a magnetic latch. Housekeeping staff said using the latch “was routine practice to make it easier to go in and out of the laundry room,” according to the report.
The state pointed out that Auburn Manor had no policy or formal procedures addressing the locking of laundry room doors. In the wake of Hookom’s death, Auburn Manor had the latch removed and directed staff to keep the laundry room doors locked “unless they were in direct view of the door,” the state report noted.
The nursing home is operated by Auburn Homes and Services, a nearly 90-year-old faith-based nonprofit that began in Victoria, Minn., moved to Chaska in the mid-1980s and offers a range of services for more than 200 residents.
Auburn CEO and President Mike Senden said he has no quarrel with the state’s findings in what he called “a really heartbreaking accident [that] affected our staff greatly and the family greatly.”
He said that along with improving supervision of the laundry room, Auburn also put a screen atop the basin, which is sunken into the floor.
According to state investigators and police:
Hookom, who generally relied on a wheelchair to get around, was spotted three times that day approaching the end of the hall where the laundry room was and was sent away each time.
Eventually, Hookom walked through the laundry room’s unlocked door and ended up on her back in the uncovered concrete catch basin, where hot water drains from a washer hose.
A nursing assistant found an alert Hookom face up in the accumulating hot water about 3 p.m. and heard her faintly calling for help.
Hookom suffered second-degree burns to her back, waist, buttocks, legs, ankles and feet, leaving some of her skin bright red and peeling. The water was kept at that 155-degrees to disinfect the laundry. She died the next afternoon at Hennepin County Medical Center.
About a week before the incident, a family member said, she spoke to a facility representative about Hookom’s safety in connection with her wandering. The family member said “the facility assured her the resident was still appropriate to live there and she would be safe,” the state report read.
She was a proud blood donor
Hookom grew up in Raymond, Minn., southwest of Willmar, one of six children. She studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota. She married Kenneth Hookom in 1949.
The family moved in 1960 to Eden Prairie, where she was president of the Women’s Society and a Sunday school superintendent. She also volunteered at the Eden Prairie Historical Society, Art in Eden Prairie and Meals on Wheels. Her biggest accomplishment,” her funeral home obituary read, “was the over 319 donations of blood and platelettes she donated.”
The Hookoms had four children and were married for 67 years until Kenneth’s death in January 2016.