Family sues Colorado nursing home after woman walks out and freezes to death


Mary Jo Staub screamed last February as she clapped her hands on the glass outside the Colorado assisted living facility where she lived, according to surveillance footage cited in a lawsuit.

Standing in freezing temperatures, the 97-year-old knocked on doors, waiting for someone to unlock them.

Staub had been out in the cold for an hour when she collapsed on the concrete, according to the lawsuit filed last week.

By the time a center employee spotted her and called the police, more than five hours had passed since Staub wandered outside after midnight, according to the lawsuit. She was dead.

Now his family is suing the assisted living facility — Balfour at Lavender Farms in Louisville, Colorado — along with its chief executive and the two employees who worked overnight on the day Staub died. Filed Jan. 17 in Boulder County District Court, the allegations in the lawsuit include felony murder and negligence resulting in wrongful death.

Balfour Senior Living, which operates the center, did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post. The Post could not reach the employees named as defendants in the complaint.

Lawyers for Hailey Hart PLLC, who represent the family, said in a statement on Tuesday that Staub’s life had been “tragically cut short”.

“Assisted living facilities are meant to provide protective supervision for our elderly loved ones,” the statement read. “The Staub family wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other members of this vulnerable population.”

Elaine McManis of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who investigated the assisted living facility, said the agency was “deeply saddened” by Staub’s death.

“As soon as we were notified, we dispatched experts to the scene to investigate what happened and ensure the safety of other residents,” McManis said in a statement. “When we found deficiencies, we instructed the facility to make changes quickly and closely monitored the facility until it completed all corrective actions.”

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In 2019, Staub moved into downtown Lavender Farms as one of its first residents, according to the complaint. Staub grew up in Ohio and was a “devoted and loving wife, mother, and entrepreneur,” selling handmade and homegrown items to support her family. His “hard work, courage and determination” were inspirational, the family wrote in their obituary.

Staub occasionally suffered from confusion, depression and memory loss, among other conditions, the complaint states. Employees at the center were aware of these conditions, he adds.

After an episode of “confusion, difficulty speaking and overnight disorientation” in November 2021 and a fall in her apartment, Staub was hospitalized and then cared for under Balfour’s “qualified nurses” program until January 2022.

Throughout this time, Balfour staff members knew that Staub continued to suffer from confusion, anxiety, restlessness and restlessness, the complaint states.

Then, as Staub’s health improved, her family, a nurse practitioner and Balfour staff planned to take her back to the Lavender Farms center. Based on the nurse practitioner’s assessment, they decided that Staub would be placed under “II” level of care, which meant that staff would monitor her more closely.

Staub’s family was assured that she would undergo security checks every four hours between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to the complaint. But Balfour did not update Staub’s care plan accordingly, according to the lawsuit.

On Feb. 25, the morning before Staub died, one of his daughters checked on her, the document says. Staub’s daughter had reported that her mother was confused and hallucinating, and she asked people at the nursing station to “check on her mother frequently,” according to the complaint.

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That evening, a Balfour employee noted that Staub was hallucinating again, this time seeing people “whistling and signing at him,” the complaint states. Staub’s family and his nurse practitioner were not informed of the incident, according to the complaint.

At around 10 p.m., another employee wrote that “Mary Jo is fine,” adding that Staub had taken his medication and gone to bed.

But about two and a half hours later, Staub wandered outside the facility with his walker, wearing his pajamas, robe, boots and gloves, the lawsuit says. The doors immediately locked behind her and Staub continued walking in the snow around the building, he adds.

“At some point, she dropped her walker and injured her ankle,” the complaint reads.

As Staub continued, crawling on her hands and knees, she left a trail of blood behind her, the complaint states.

When she finally got to the gates near the nurses’ station, she knocked on it, but no one saw her, the lawsuit says. She was lying in the snow, barely moving.

At around 4:40 a.m., a second resident strolled outside and the doors locked behind her again, according to the complaint. The woman rang the doorbell of the nurses’ station.

It took two employees working that night about an hour to let the unnamed resident back inside, according to the lawsuit. Minutes later, employees saw Staub lying outside, according to the suit. She had been in the cold for nearly six hours.

“Mary Jo was not saved,” the complaint reads. “She froze to death in front of Lavender Farms interior security cameras as she lay outside the French doors adjacent to the nurses’ station.”

An autopsy showed Staub had died of hypothermia, according to the family’s lawsuit.

After his death, as his family tried to figure out what was wrong, the complaint alleges that Balfour employees “provided lies and misleading statements” to investigators to “avoid criminal prosecution.” The complaint lists seven claims – including criminal murder, negligence resulting in wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress – against the defendants and seeks a jury trial.