Chicago Rehab Workers Accused Of Letting Patient Burn To Death

Victim's sister files lawsuit against Chicago-based rehab center.

CBS Chicago
The staff at a rehab clinic in Chicago was negligent when a patient died from a fire that started on his shirt, the man's sister is alleging in a lawsuit. The incident occurred two years ago when the wheelchair-bound Michael Lewis was on the verge of checking out of the Lake Shore HealthCare and Rehabilitation Centre.

But his shirt caught on fire from his pocket lighter and the staff failed to intervene before he perished in the flame. (Footage from the security video can be seen below.) Representatives from the facility are not making comments to the media. They told the local CBS affiliate, which first broke the story, they're being confined by privacy laws.

Speaking to the CBS affiliate, Lewis's sister, Lisa Couch, made clear her disgust. "He sustained burns like from mid-thigh up to the eyebrows," she said. "The horror, to think my brother is on fire and no one is there?"

The scene is indeed a harrowing one. At the time his shirt caught fire, Lewis was located on the patio outside the center, which is a designated smoking area. And after the fire began, the staff tried a range of fixes; they wheeled him both inside and outside and sprayed a fire extinguisher on him. But a full five minutes passed before Lewis was given oxygen, and another 10 before CPR was applied, according to the CBS report. And that was done by emergency responders, and not by anyone on staff.

None of it would be enough. And as emergency response expert Stanley Zydio told the local outlet, the rescue effort was riddled with other problems. There appeared to be a lack of leadership, and a blanket should have immediately been placed on Lewis to try and smother the fire. The video footage also fails to show "anybody evaluating him or doing CPR for him," according to Zydio.

By the time EMS workers arrived on the scene it was too late -- Lewis had already died of cardiac arrest.

While the lawsuit is still playing out, Lake Shore officials have already said its staff are to receive new training to handle such emergencies. And as McKnight's Long Term Care News points out, if recent history is any guide, the Chicago-center may end up with a large penalty on its hands. The Virginia-based Carriage Hill Health & Rehabilitation Center was fined $1.5 million this summer after an unattended wheelchair-bound patient sustained burns while smoking.

As upsetting as stories about worker negligence, real or alleged, are, features on workers rising to the occasion to save lives are a testament to everyday heroism in the workplace. And AOL Jobs has profiled many such stories. One particularly high-profile incident was from the spring when a police officer in the South American country of Colombia yanked a man out of the way as he was jumping in front of an oncoming train.

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laura2013

Some people feel that this place should be shut down, everyone that works for the company should be fired without benefits pensions, unemployment, Cobra, and go to prison. This is a 24 hr facility, not everyone that works there is responsible for what happened. Also, regarding the staff that were present, should they all receive criminal charges? Did they did this on purpose or was this caused by poor training? I think that his was caused by poor training and under staffing. I don't think that anyone should go to jail. I do believe that whomever that was suppose to be watching him and that staff members immediate supervisor should be fired. I saw the video and the staff tried to help him. they did not know what they were doing. Maybe the staff were never trained to put out a fire. How is that a crime? Accidents happen everyday. If you accidentally hit someone while driving and that person dies. Should you go to jail for it?

December 06 2013 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jackie

my mom was on oxygen and in rehab nursing but her oxygen was either not on her or her tank was always empty. when she went to physical therapy she was always so exhausted (from lack of oxygen) and the therapist kept saying she is faking it. finally she was sent to the hospital and was put on oxygen and a bpap machine (breathes both ways). thank GOD. she is doing fine now (she's 95). it was at Cardinal Ritter catholic nursing home in St Louis, Mo. I wouldn't send my worst enemy there. they left her sitting in poopy soiled diapers for hours at a time. I raised hell with them every day. the food they gave them was disgusting. the corn chowder was a can of corn with nothing but water added. I would ask for her to get fresh fruits and veggies or a salad (when I admitted her they told me she had these choices)and the dining staff would tell me this is all we are serving today. everything was fried crap, and lots of carbs, always stuff like mashed potatoes. when I looked around, nobody was eating the stuff. their trick was that they required everyone be on a nutrition drink. that way they didn't have to worry if they weren't eating. the nutrition drink rotted my mom's teeth(per her dentist) and she had to have all of them pulled when she came home.

October 06 2013 at 12:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bolomark3

Screw the rules. If somebody is on fire, you use whatever is quickest to put the flames out. If that's spraying them with a fire extinguisher or using a flame resistant blanket. Most blankets are NOT flame retardant.
Outside of that, everything else just seems to go down from here.

October 06 2013 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kolekt61

"The staff will be retrained"...whatever happened to common sense and human compassion. The entire facility needs to be shut down and the staff including administrators needs to be fired. And yes forfeiting benefits and pensions!

October 05 2013 at 7:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kolekt61's comment
laura2013

Why do you think that the facility should be shut down? Why should everyone be fired including those that are not present during the scene? Have you ever worked with people in a residential facility? The 1.5 Million Dollar fine is enough to shut down the facility. Not everyone that works there is responsible for the incident. Should the workers that were not present (off that day or work the night shift) be fired for another person's mistakes? Also, there is a shortage in residential facilities. If this place is shut down where will all of the people go? Also, some people are entitled to certain benefits regardless of the reason why they were fired. If some can retire, that person is entitled to his or her retirement benefits regardless of the reasons why he or she was fired. Also, all employees are entitled to COBRA.

December 06 2013 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
grannycrtb

Ignorance is no excuse for these workers. Children as young as kindergarten are given instruction on what to do in case of fire.

October 05 2013 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
lbrycemaynor

A minimum wage staff gives minimum attention and care.

October 05 2013 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lbrycemaynor's comment
THIS NEW FORMAT

Unfortunately, that's true.

October 05 2013 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Regina

I worked at a facility like this where smoking in certain areas were allowed but a staff or family member had to be present and residents could not carry lighters.

October 05 2013 at 1:17 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
T.

What a disgrace...My heart goes out to his family..RIP

October 05 2013 at 12:46 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
ilovestevetindle

i think this is a outrage the only people that had any concern for this poor guy was the others in the wheel chairs themselves. and i am sure if they would of been able to get up they would of done more for him then these pity excuse for healthcare workers. wow you think in a medical facility you would surely have a chance . now i hope this family is enormously rewarded for this tragedy. they deserve it.

October 05 2013 at 12:31 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ilovestevetindle's comment
Becky T

This is a perfect example of why my father became an LPN to take care of his parents when his other siblings put them in a nursing home & why I myself vowed to NEVER put my parents in a nursing home, which, thankfully so far, so good. I was my father's caregiver until he died last year & I've been my mother's caregiver for the past 8 years & so far, so good.

October 05 2013 at 3:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Blessed

Why, in this day and age, are people at any medical facility allowed to smoke? Patients haven't been allowed to smoke in hospital rooms for at east twenty-eight years here in Columbus, GA and almost as long has it been since even staff could smoke outside in smoking areas! This tragedy and the aforementioned one in the Spring ( per the story ) could have been avoided if there were no smoking laws like we have; which means NO ONE smokes, in or on the property-clear up to the curb! This place deserves the law suit that will surely follow! The Family should get millions just on the anguish of knowing the last thing this poor man saw before he died was himself burning alive and no oone helping him! And PS people; NEVER take a person nor a pan outside when it's on fire! The sudden rush of oxygen to the flames causes a back draft ( worse fire ) !

October 05 2013 at 12:21 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Blessed's comment
judi klein

It is the same reason that mental patients are not forced to take their med.....personal responsibility and their "right". Stupid though it may seem that is the reason why patients group around doors at hospitals with IV's on poles smoking, etc.

October 05 2013 at 12:30 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Becky T

This was a rehab facility, which is/was probably like a nursing home where they do allow people to smoke in designated areas. I didn't watch the video because I've actually seen this happen in real life & I was traumatized by it, but from what my b/f told me the video shows that his lighter was in his pocket & it just exploded. No matter what caused it, this is a HORRIBLE way to be treated. He could have easily been saved had the staff put him out & then rushed him to the hospital/done CPR, I know because this exact same thing happened to my dad & I rushed him to the E.R. & he lived another 2 years after his accident.

October 05 2013 at 3:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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