State Investigates Mysterious Death at Motion Picture Home

EXCLUSIVE: Carrie DeLay, 89, died after falling down a flight of steps. Critics of the fund blame cutbacks and lax oversight

EXCLUSIVE

The suspicious death of a resident at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s long-term care center has led the California Department of Public Health to launch an investigation at the embattled facility, TheWrap has learned.

Carrie DeLay, 89 and wheelchair-bound, was found injured at the bottom of a staircase at the long-term care facility on October 17 after suffering a fall.

She died a week later.

Critics of the Motion Picture Fund home charge that low staffing levels and lax oversight are partly to blame for the accident.

”Carrie DeLay’s horrific death was preventable,” Andrew Suser, co-founder of Saving the Lives of Our Own, told TheWrap.

“Ms. DeLay’s tragic death is evidence once again that the motion picture home is not adequately managed and staffed,” Mike Connors, a spokesman for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told TheWrap. “It’s hard to understand why the door wasn’t alarmed. They obviously should have taken more precautions.”

The California Department of Public Health is investigating the incident, but department spokesperson Ralph Montano said he could not provide any additional information until the inquiry was closed.

Critics of the facility said DeLay was a victim of insufficient safety procedures, including the absence of an alarm on the door or the possibility that it had been left open.

MPTF officials confirmed the death, calling it an “unfortunate incident.”

“Out of respect for the family's privacy, we are not going to provide any further comment,” Steve Honig, a spokesman for the MPTF told TheWrap.

A police detective confirmed to TheWrap that DeLay’s death was deemed due to natural causes.

But that does not really explain how DeLay, frail and elderly, died or fell.

Thus far, no one has explained how she was able to travel 157 feet from her room to the stairway, open a heavy door blocking access, and propel herself down the flight of stairs.

To open the door, DeLay, who was said to suffer from dementia, would have had to contend with a metal bar that was intended to prevent patients from leaving the facility. Further complicating matters, DeLay would also have had to pass by a nursing station as she traveled from her room to the stairs, but she was apparently unobserved by any of the staff on duty.

Particularly troubling, elderly rights advocates and the families of MPTF residents say, is that nurses at the home said privately that DeLay was so frail she could not wheel herself more than 10 to 15 feet.

After DeLay was discovered, she was transported to Northridge Hospital. She was later returned to the MPTF and died there on Oct. 24.

Members of Saving the Lives of Our Own, the grassroots group formed to keep the hospital open, said the incident reflected a general decline in the level of care at the facility since the MPTF board announced plans to close it in January 2009.

Some 40 elderly residents remain on the MPTF’s Wasserman Campus. Relationships between the MPTF board and residents' families have been tense since the fund’s leadership announced that in the wake of mounting budget deficits, long-term care patients would need to be relocated.

In a letter to the Family Council, a group composed of residents at the long- term care unit and their families, the MPTF board said that an internal and a third party investigation would be conducted.

“If improvements on our side are indicated [by the inquiry], we will by all means make them. The reality is, we are both on the same side — the side of your loved ones who are under our care,” the Nov. 2 letter from board chairman Robert Pisano and vice chair Mark Fleischer reads.

The Los Angeles Homicide Department also inquired into DeLay’s death and met with hospital staff, but ultimately determined it was a civil and not a criminal matter, LAPD Detective David Peteque told TheWrap.

Throughout, the families say that MPTF officials have maintained that DeLay’s death had nothing to do with the reductions in nursing staff that the facility has been making as it continues to move towards closing.

Said Suser: “There needs to be a change in the administrators who run the Motion Picture nursing home, who continue to take the company line that their deliberate cutbacks don’t endanger the elderly residents."

Citing the diminishing number of residents, the MPTF laid off 13 staffers in December 2009 and let go of an additional seven staff members last July.

A photo of DeLay was not immediately available.