West Ashley senior living facility assigned fine after 90-year-old woman’s death

Bonnie Walker

CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) —  In July of 2016, a 90-year-old woman was found dead in a pond behind Brookdale Senior Living facility in West Ashley.

The coroner later determined Bonnie Walker had been killed by an alligator.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control investigation found Walker was last seen on tape at 12:14 AM July 27, 2016. She was seen wandering down the hall alone.

Staff became aware of her disappearance at 7:15 AM.

Walker was found dead in the pond behind the facility around 8:40 AM.

DHEC determined that no one checked on Walker through the night, as required.  DHEC also said the facility’s staff knew Walker needed constant supervision, and she was prone to wander.

Additionally, an alarm did not sound when Walker left the building.

At the time of the incident, Walker had been at Charleston’s Brookdale Senior Living facility for almost two months. Her granddaughter, Stephanie Weaver, was there when she moved in. She was also there the day her grandmother was found dead. It’s a sight she’ll never forget.

Weaver did not want to comment herself on the day her grandmother died, but her attorneys spoke for her.

“Stephanie was very close with her grandmother,” said attorney Ken Connor.

Weaver is suing Brookdale Senior Living for negligence, infliction, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

When Weaver got word that her grandmother was missing on July 27, 2016, she immediately went to Brookdale, not knowing what she’d find.

“Walks around the corner of the building, sees the police officer and Ms. Wong running toward the pond, falls in right behind them, and encounters the most horrific, unimaginable scene you can imagine that shows her grandmothers dismembered body floating in the alligator pond,” said Connor.

The lawsuit claims the incident could have been prevented if Weaver would have been under constant care.

“The DHEC investigation indicates the facility already determined that because of her confusion, her dementia, and her associated problems, this is a lady who needs constant supervision,” said Connor.

DHEC’S report says that the Individual Care Plan had not been updated to reflect the need for supervision and placement in a memory care unit.

DHEC investigates an assisted facility when it receives a complaint. The agency encourages anyone to let authorities know of any wrong doing.

The News 2 I-Team found the DHEC citations against Brookdale Senior Living in the last five years.

At least 26 violations are reported after 15 complaints.

When DHEC issues a citation, the facility is required to submit a Plan of Correction.

Brookdale did submit plans for all the violations, including Walker’s case.

Brookdale said it would retrain all night care staff and examine all residents’ healthcare plans to make sure the staff is meeting their needs.

Since the July 2016 incident, Brookdale received at least 7 more citations, and the agency found that the facility violates the standards for licensing.

The agency sent Brookdale a letter in May providing staff the opportunity to attend a meeting to discuss what actions may be taken. Brookdale officials did attend.

DHEC fined Brookdale $6,400. A DHEC report says the fine has been paid.

As for Weaver, she awaits a trial date. She’s starting to investigate the assisted living industry as a whole.

“I think the amount of the fine, this remote in time and from the events, demonstrate the inadequacy of the state regulatory mechanism to adequately protect these very vulnerable people,” Connor said. He hopes legislators come forward with policy change.

Brookdale Senior Living would not comment on pending litigation.

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