Former Nevada legislator and longtime optometrist Robert Robinson died less than three weeks after being left outside in extreme heat by staff at the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City.
The 89-year-old man suffered second-degree burns on his legs and other parts of his body while sitting in his wheelchair wearing only shorts during the height of summer, family members said Monday.
The cause of death on Robinson’s death certificate includes “sepsis, cellulitis, cutaneous burns and prolonged environmental heat exposure.”
The family now plans to sue the facility.
“It’s just unacceptable,” Robinson’s grandson, Craig Robinson, said Monday. ” I would like those who were responsible to be held accountable.”
The family has hired two attorneys, Gerald Gillock and John Funk with the Law Office of Gerald I. Gillock &Associates.
Gillock said a lawsuit probably will be filed within 30 days in Clark County District Court. They are waiting for the final report from the Clark County coroner’s office.
The coroner’s office is conducting a neurological analysis, said Betty Robinson, Robert Robinson’s widow.
Robinson’s case is one of several incidents that placed residents in harm’s way at the only state-run nursing home for veterans. The Review-Journal reported earlier this month that the incidents were substantiated by state investigators.
The facility is being investigated by the Nevada attorney general’s office.
Gov. Brian Sandoval “is aware of the incident and is deeply concerned about this tragic loss of life,” said Mary-Sarah Kinner on Monday. Kinner said Sandoval was unavailable for an interview.
“While some disciplinary actions have already occurred, the governor is receiving regular updates and may take additional action to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again,” she said in a statement.
The Boulder City Police Department was contacted by the coroner’s office after Robert Robinson died in July, Detective Sgt. John Glenn said. He contacted the attorney general’s office on Aug. 1.
Initially, both agencies planned to conduct a joint investigation, but the attorney general’s office then decided to handle the case alone, so no investigation was opened by the department, Glenn said.
The agency does respond to calls from the veterans home, but nothing this extreme has been reported before, he said. The Boulder City Police Department did not receive a call from the home about Robinson’s injuries before he died, he added.
The attorney general’s office is waiting for the final report from the coroner’s office, said Funk, one of the Robinson family’s attorneys. The report, which includes a brain analysis, could help determine how long the veteran was left in the sun.
The attorney general’s office is investigating the case for “potential criminal activity” and potential “Medicare fraud,” Funk said.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Andrew Schulke declined to comment Monday and referred questions to office spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez, who also declined to comment.
Jack Cheever, spokesman with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, said he couldn’t comment when asked whether the federal centers were involved in the Nevada attorney general’s office investigation on potential Medicare fraud at the veterans home.
“I’m afraid our policy is not to confirm, deny or comment in any way on any pending, current, or future investigations,” he said Monday.
Funk said the attorney general’s investigation could be problematic because the office would represent the veterans home in any potential litigation.
Robert Robinson had been at the veterans home since March.
Betty Robinson, said he had not suffered any other injuries that she knew of before being left outside on July 15.
The same day, he was transferred to a hospital in Boulder City.
Staff at the veterans home told the family he had been left outside for about 15 minutes. They later said he had been outside for a maximum of 20 minutes, Craig Robinson said.
But hospital staff told the family, “You don’t get those types of burns in 15 minutes,” Betty Robinson said.
Craig Robinson said another worrisome issue at the veterans home was that staff kept changing the story.
At one point they said the burns happened during his transport to the hospital, he said.
And during the weeks that Robert Robinson was at the hospital, staff members at the veterans home were not cooperative, Craig Robinson said.
After Robinson’s hospital stay, he was moved to a hospice where he died on July 31.
The burns were so bad that doctors couldn’t do much, Craig Robinson said. His grandfather needed a skin graft, which he wouldn’t have been able to survive because of his age, Craig Robinson said.
Betty Robinson said the family thought they had done a thorough job in researching facilities when they selected the veterans home to care for her husband. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II after graduating from Las Vegas High School in 1941.
“I think they deserve the best treatment,” she said of veterans. “These guys sacrifice so much. We owe them all we can possibly give them.”
Robert Robinson was the third optometrist in Las Vegas, served in the state Assembly for two terms and for one term in the Senate, Betty Robinson said.
He was first elected to the Assembly in 1972. In 1982, he was elected to the Senate, where he served as vice chairman of the Commerce Committee and as a member of the Government Affairs and Taxation committees.
“I thought we had at least three more years” together, Betty Robinson said.
The facility was aware that the veteran, who suffered from dementia, liked to wander, his wife said. But the facility did not have a policy in place outlining excessive heat precautions, according to documents from an August state investigation.
The certified nursing assistant who was assigned to monitor Robert Robinson also did not provide adequate supervision. The CNA was terminated from employment at the facility, according to the investigation documents.
Corrective measures at the facility were taken and included a new policy on excessive heat precautions, according to an improvement plan written by veterans home staff and submitted to the state earlier this year.
Clinical staff were trained to provide adequate supervision and prevent accidents. The CNA job requirements were revised to include safety measures and accountability. Renovations were made to the patio where Robert Robinson suffered exposure.
But his family feels that it is still necessary to file a lawsuit to make the public aware and prevent future incidents.
Family members delayed action because they were waiting for the death certificate, his wife said.
The facility had until Dec. 19 to pay $20,165 in accumulated fines to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The fines were imposed after multiple deficiencies were found during June and August investigations by the state. From Sept. 14 to Oct. 21, the federal centers suspended payments for new patients at the veterans home.
Other incidents placing residents in harm’s way were substantiated by investigators in recent months, including that of a resident who was given medication without family consent. Another resident was struck by his visiting wife, who also slapped another resident. Police weren’t called, and nothing was done for two days.