Two nursing home aides and an Illinois nursing home are being sued after the caregivers taunted a 91-year-old woman with dementia — and then posted a disturbing video of the great-grandmother’s ordeal on Snapchat, court records show.
On Wednesday, the family of Margaret Collins, of Sauganash, filed a lawsuit against the Abington of Glenview Nursing & Rehab Center, its parent company, and two certified nursing assistants, Jamie Montesa, 21, and Brayan Cortez, 20, court records obtained by PEOPLE show.
The family is suing for more than $1 million in damages should the case go to a jury, the family’s lawyer, Margaret Battersby Black of the Chicago law firm, Levin & Perconti, tells PEOPLE.
“Sadly, this 10-second video shows once trusted caregivers taunting and taking advantage of a sweet 91-year-old lady with dementia,” Battersby Black tells PEOPLE.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act and state privacy laws; that they were negligent; and that they intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Collins.
The incident came to light on Dec. 28, 2018, when the woman’s family learned about a Snapchat video showing Cortez shoving a hospital gown toward Collins, as his co-worker-girlfriend videotaped them and they both laughed, the lawsuit says.
Lying in her bed, the woman can be seen trying to fight off the gown, waving it away as it is repeatedly pushed in her face.
Staff at the nursing home knew the woman didn’t like wearing the hospital gowns and preferred wearing her own clothes, the lawsuit says.
“They were supposed to be caring for her, but instead they frightened her and wanted to embarrass her,” Tom Collins, Collins’ son, said in a statement released by the lawyer.
The video was later posted on Snapchat with the caption, “Margaret hates gowns,” punctuated with two laughing/crying emojis.
“You just can’t believe you’re seeing this,” Joan Biebel, Collins’ daughter, told local station WGN 9. “You think your mom is safe and now this is going on.”
The aides were suspended after Collins’ family alerted the nursing home staff to the video, demanding that the duo stay away from their mother.
But the pair was allowed to return to work six days later, when administrators conducted an internal investigation and concluded that the allegations were unfounded after co-workers vouched for them, the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a report obtained by PEOPLE.
That’s when the family turned to the authorities for help, Biebel said.
“I knew immediately that we had to go to the police department. This was completely wrong,” Biebel told CBS Chicago.
Besides violating Collins’ privacy, the family says in the statement that the incident “so traumatized and upset their mother that she couldn’t sleep, grew fearful of a repeat attack, and became so panicked at night they had to hire a private caregiver to stay with her because her overall health deteriorated.”
Her children moved Collins out of the nursing home a few days later, which “severely disoriented” Collins.
“It really set her back,” Tom Collins said in the statement.
During police questioning in January 2019, Montesa and Cortez admitted to the incident on Dec. 21, 2019, saying they are fond of Collins, who is well-liked at the nursing home, and didn’t mean her any harm, the Village of Glenview Police report says.
Montesa told police she didn’t know it was against the law to videotape someone at her residence and post it on social media without her consent, the report says.
They were both charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. They are expected to appear in Cook County Circuit Court later this month.
It is unclear whether they have retained attorneys who can speak on their behalf.
When the elderly Collins was questioned by police, she said she didn’t want the couple, who are nursing students, arrested, but only “warned” because she didn’t want to “ruin future opportunities” for them, the report says.
Collins told police she didn’t think Cortez “meant any harm” in waving the gown at her, though she said, “the behavior went on a little too long.”
Still, when Cortez kept waving it, she felt “as though he may force her to put it on,” the report says.
The nursing home is also at fault for “shrugging off” the incident, Battersby Black says.
The Illinois Department of Public Health agreed, saying in its report that the Abington “failed to implement its ‘Abuse Prevention Policy’ by failing to ensure that a resident is free from staff-inflicted emotional abuse by taunting resident with a hospital gown, recording the incident and posting it on social media.”
The nursing home did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
The Abington said in a statement in part, “Recently, two employees were immediately terminated when it was determined that they violated our standards and policies,” CBS Chicago reports.
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