After Ann Graff, a 92-year-old nursing home patient with severe dementia, ended up with a black eye and couldn't explain how she got it, her daughter asked permission to place a video camera in Graff's room — a request the nursing home denied.
Now, the women are asking a federal court to require the nursing home, Heritage Manor of Slidell, to allow the camera.
A civil rights lawsuit filed Monday claims Heritage Manor and its owner, Medico LLC, are discriminating against Graff on the basis of her disability and violating her rights as a Louisiana nursing home resident.
The suit seeks a preliminary injunction, which would grant immediate relief to the plaintiffs.
Graff's daughter, Lucie Titus, could not be reached for comment, but in a prepared statement, she said that her mother can no longer reliably communicate with her or the nursing staff.
"The fact that the facility cannot tell me how she was injured leaves me guessing about what she experiences each day," Titus said.
The Advocacy Center of Louisiana and the AARP Foundation are representing the women in the lawsuit, which says it seeks to enforce Graff's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Louisiana Nursing Home Residents' Bill of Rights.
An administrator at Heritage Manor of Slidell declined to comment when reached by phone.
But the suit is taking on a powerful adversary. Medico is affiliated with nursing home magnate Elton Beebe, a major donor in Louisiana political campaigns, despite the fact that he's based in Mississippi.
A team of government experts and industry stakeholders spent more than two years painstakingly crafting a plan that would have reduced Louisiana’s expensive and unpopular reliance on nursing homes to house the state’s most helpless residents.
In the 2015 Louisiana governor's race, Beebe's family and associated businesses donated at least $67,500 to John Bel Edwards and his top opponent, David Vitter. That same year, Beebe and his family also donated $25,000 to former Gov. Bobby Jindal's failed presidential campaign.
Amitai Heller, an attorney with the Advocacy Center, said the lawsuit has big implications. "What makes this case significant beyond just the facts, which are sympathetic, is that this case is trying to assert that individuals in nursing homes do in fact have the right to use video cameras for their communication and protection," she said.
Graff has lived at the nursing home since 2008, the suit says, and Titus visits her on an almost daily basis. But when Titus went to see her mother on May 7, the suit says, she found Graff in bed with a black eye and severe back pain. Her mother couldn't explain what had happened.
"Lucie Titus asked for a nurse to come into her mother's room to ask how her mother had been injured," the lawsuit says. "The facility staff was unable or unwilling to explain why Ann Graff was in pain or how long she had been in pain. The nursing staff also said they had not noticed that Ann Graff had a black eye or that she had back pain."
An MRI taken later that month determined that Graff had a fractured vertebra, which required surgery, the suit says.
Titus asked the facility's head nurse for permission to install a camera, which she had purchased. She also hired a lawyer to send a written request to the defendants to allow the camera as a reasonable accommodation for Graff's disability.
Titus intended to bear the sole cost of operating the camera and monitoring its footage, the suit says. The camera does not record audio, the suit says, and would record video only of Graff's bed. Titus received permission from Graff's roommate and would have put up signs notifying visitors to the room of the camera.
But the nursing home refused the request and didn't offer any alternative means for meeting Graff's communication needs, according to the suit.
The suit contends that Titus needs to be able to monitor her mother's recovery from surgery and her day-to-day care.
"Each day that Ann Graff is deprived of her right to have a video camera in her room is a day in which Lucie Titus and others cannot adequately know, understand and address Ann Graff's care needs and further places Ann Graff's health and safety at risk," the suit says.
Staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.