Were NHC Aides Missing When Fire Started? - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Were NHC Aides Missing When Fire Started?

NHC is now blaming firefighters for some of the deaths in last year's fire. As for their own employees, NHC has said they did everything they were supposed to do to protect patients. And state regulators have gone along with those claims. But that may not be the whole story.

For patients inside the NHC nursing home,  and for the people who loved them, last year's fire seemed a betrayal of trust.

"I just wanted someone to take care of her and love her and make sure she was safe until her end," Sandra Edwards tells NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

Edwards and her sister Bette Siegel were overjoyed that their 89-year-old mother, Esta Loventhal, was rescued from the second floor where the fire began.

So, they never bothered to ask how NHC's staff could let everything get so out of control.

"We don't know if they did everything they could," Siegel says.

Edwards adds, "We never called anybody to say what happened, and why? I guess we didn't know who to call."

Despite NHC's claims, records show that on the night of the fire a nurse and three aides were assigned to care for patients on the second floor.

But investigators' notes suggest the first response to the alarm may have come from employees on the third floor.

"We were told how many staff were on, and that it was a usual amount of staff," Edward says.

So where was the second-floor staff when the fire started?

Notes show one aide told investigators he was down the hall with patients.

But the nurse assigned to the floor had left early for a second job.

As to the two other aides, a witness tells NewsChannel 5 they had been outside smoking.

"That disturbs me greatly that there weren't enough staff there on that floor to have noticed it themselves," Edwards says.

Even when smoke detectors triggered the fire alarm, one staff member told investigators that a third-floor "tried to reset the alarm." It was only "30 to 40 seconds later" when the alarm "went off again" that the third floor employees headed downstairs.

"I would consider that a mistake," says former Metro fire chief Buck Dozier.

He says resetting the alarm cut into the staff's time to combat the fire.

"It has to be visually checked -- not an assumption made that this is another one of those false calls."

By the time, aides called 911, they were in full-scale panic mode.

Firefighters were also forced to carry patients down stairwells because no NHC employee could find a key for the elevators, which automatically shut down during a fire alarm.

"Firefighters absolutely need control of the elevators in high-rise fires," Dozier adds.

Edwards say, "I have an issue on whether they were properly trained."

Sandra Edwards and her sister say they don't fault the NHC employees for what happened that night. 

They fault a company that wouldn't even spend $6,500 to put smoke detectors in the patients' rooms.

"You put them in somebody else's hands and trust them in somebody else's care, then find out they are not safe and why -- because of the dollar signs."

One patient even told us that NHC's employees left the second floor very quickly after the fire started and that she got out of the building only because security guards from the nearby Centennial Hospital rushed into the building.

As for the company's claims about firefighters, the department's own after-action reports do admit that communication problems led to a 16-minute delay in calling a second-alarm and a delay in getting the fire out because firefighters kept bumping into victims.

But family members say NHC should never have let it get that far.

(Story created: 11/17/04)

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