The family of Air Force veteran Gerald Bain, who overdosed at the Minneapolis Veterans Home in 2012, is suing the state Department of Veterans Affairs over his death.
The family’s attorney says administrators at the state-run facility were not paying close enough attention to how much medication Bain was taking when he died.
“Their personnel were negligent and failed to properly assess and control the use of prescribed and non-prescribed medication,” attorney Richard Nygaard said in the lawsuit filed in January in Hennepin County District Court.
In March 2013, James Bain was appointed as trustee for the heirs and next-of-kin of his brother, Gerald, who died of methadone toxicity while living at the veterans home. He was 61.
Under its “Care Plan” policy, the home was required to reassess Gerald and revise his plan as his medical conditions changed, the suit alleges.
“They certainly knew he had been taking illegal drugs and just didn’t do anything about it,” Nygaard said.
Staff members were also aware that Bain, who suffered from bipolar disorder and chronic back pain, had not been taking the drugs that were prescribed to him, the attorney said.
James Bain said his brother, who lived in the home’s domiciliary and had a job at its coffee shop, had a weakness for pain pills, and staff members should have kept a more watchful eye on his medications, especially since his roommate had voiced concerns about his drug addiction to officials at the home.
When it was time to refill his prescription, James Bain said his brother received his pills for the entire month and was able to take them at his own discretion.
“If he got his doses every day, maybe he’d still be alive … but he just ate them up like candy,” James Bain said.
In 2012, an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health discovered the home’s staff members had found a stash of unprescribed drugs in Bain’s room five days before his death. They were also aware he was taking a painkiller more frequently than was prescribed.
State probe faulted staff
The state investigation found that employees at the home failed to adequately monitor Bain’s medications.
“That’s what ticks me off more than anything,” James Bain said. “They just swished it under the rug.”
The Minneapolis home has a history of complaints and has been investigated by the state Department of Health more than 10 times in the past five years, state records show. At least four of those cases involved suspicious deaths.
Bain’s death was part of a 2013 Star Tribune investigation into irregularities at the Minneapolis home.
Following this string of incidents, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, which administers the state’s five veterans homes, reported it had made improvements in its policies and training.
It also received a $35 million grant last September from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to finish renovation and expansion of the Minneapolis home. Construction plans include a new nursing facility, and a tunnel connecting all the skilled nursing buildings on the campus.
State seeks dismissal
Anjali Shankar, who is representing the home through the Minnesota attorney general’s office, said in a written response to the lawsuit that any “alleged damages were the result of a pre-existing medical condition, a superseding cause, an act of nature and/or omission by person over whom defendants have no control.”
The attorney general also is seeking to have the suit dismissed and to recover attorney’s fees.
Civil cases filed against state-run facilities are often difficult to win because state law makes government facilities such as the veterans home immune from punitive damages. Instead, Bain’s estate is seeking more than $50,000 to cover the costs of the funeral, as well as other expenses.
“They have to monitor their patients so much better than what they’re doing,” James Bain said. “This could’ve been prevented.”
Tina Munnell is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.