Deanna Kay Mahoney (inset) was a resident of the Newton Health Care Center before she died of sepsis resulting from a bone infection. (Nursing home photo via Google Earth; inset photo courtesy of the Mahoney estate)
Deanna Mahoney was like countless Iowa women through the years. She nurtured three children. She worked outside the home to supplement the family income. She loved bowling and mushroom hunting.
That is how she lived.
How she died tells us so much about the way some business owners, and too many government leaders in Iowa, have pushed aside their legal, moral and humanitarian obligations, especially to vulnerable Iowans.
The death of the 83-year-old Newton woman was tragic. Two photographs made that so horribly clear.
In spite of the statements and pledges about the sanctity of every human life, Mahoney’s death illustrates that too many members of the Iowa Legislature, and our governor, too, show too little concern for the sanctity of the lives of people in Iowa’s nursing homes.
In the days since the circumstances of her death became public, we have heard not a peep from the state officials who were obsessed earlier this year with school books, drag show performers, and a belief that teachers and school librarians are out there coaxing kids to become transgender, gay or lesbian.
These state officials could not move fast enough to enact new laws to combat the perceived dangers to young Iowans from some school books or medical providers whose patients are children identifying as a different gender.
But these state officials have little to say about the treatment, and mistreatment, of people like Deanna Mahoney who live in certain nursing homes. Too many elderly Iowans are not receiving the care their families were promised and that they and Iowa’s Medicaid program pay for. But there is no flurry of proposed laws to address such neglect.
There is a reason for that: In her travels around Iowa, the governor often meets with CEOs of nursing homes. You do not see her meeting with loved ones of people like Deanna Mahoney. Families of nursing home residents are not a lucrative source of campaign donations the way the owners are.
The circumstances of Mahoney’s death were laid out in words — and documented with two photographs — in a lawsuit filed Aug. 4 in court in Newton. Iowa Capital Dispatch shined the first spotlight on this unnecessary tragedy.
The photos were made by the emergency room staff at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines soon after Mahoney arrived by ambulance early on April 19, 2022. The photos show two massive open wounds on her back and buttocks and on one heel.
Two weeks later, Mahoney was dead.
According to the lawsuit, hospital medical records stated Mahoney’s largest wound that day was 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. That wound was contaminated with feces. The photo shows her muscle and bone exposed in a gruesome mass of reddish flesh.
The wound on her heel was smaller, but it was black, a sign the skin was dying. The photo showed the wound had created a crater into the bottom of her foot.
This was not a case in which Mahoney had been trying to care for herself at home. For seven months, she had been a resident of Newton Health Care Center, a supposedly skilled nursing and long-term care facility. But the care she received there, according to the lawsuit, was negligent and constituted a wanton disregard for her wellbeing.
Mahoney’s death should not be explained away by assertions she was old and eventually would have died anyway.
She moved into Newton Health Care Center in June 2021. In the seven months that followed, she was seen twice at MercyOne Newton Medical Center, first for vomiting, fever and bloody stools, and then a month later for Covid. During neither hospital visit did nurses find any signs her skin was breaking down.
On the morning of Feb. 2, 2022, a registered nurse at Newton Health Care Center wrote in Mahoney’s records that there were no open areas or skin issues observed. But six hours later, another nurse saw a wound at the base of Mahoney’s tailbone. And 21 days after it was first noticed, the wound had grown significantly larger — it was three-quarters of an inch deep and had a foul odor.
She was placed on antibiotics to treat the infection. But Mahoney’s condition worsened. That led to the ambulance trip to Des Moines on April 18, 2022, when the photos were made.
Death came on May 6, 2022, when her body was unable to fight the infection any longer.
Mahoney’s family is not the first to complain about the care provided by the Newton nursing home, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. In June 2022, the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing investigated a backlog of complaints against the facility and concluded all were substantiated. The violations related to the treatment of pressure sores, insufficient nursing staff, insufficient support staff, medication errors, unsanitary conditions and poor infection prevention.
John and Terri Hale, advocates for elderly Iowans, wrote recently in the Des Moines Register, “We’ve been in the long-term care policy arena for over 15 years. We’ve seen the perpetual paralysis of elected officials and the power of trade associations and lobbyists who fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo.
“… The crisis is becoming a catastrophe. Lawmakers serving Iowans need to step up and do what we elect them to do — lead. If they won’t, they are complicit in the unfolding tragedy. And the message will be clear: The lives of vulnerable older Iowans and Iowans with disabilities just don’t matter.”
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