By Jennifer Kraus
FRANKLIN, Tenn. - It can be an agonizing decision to put a parent in a nursing home. You hope to find a place that will care for them and meet their needs.
That's what a Franklin family thought they'd found for their father, an assisted living facility in Brentwood that claimed to be the premier personal care residence in the area.
Now, the family says they believe a lack of care at the facility caused irreparable harm to their father.
When John Grass could see, he loved to read his Bible and watch late night TV. But now, he's gone totally blind and, according to his family, has all but given up.
"He said, 'Please just let me go to bed and die. I'm in a black box,'" recalled his son, Larry.
Larry Grass blames the Southerland Place Assisted Living Facility in Brentwood.
Sue Higgins is the executive director there. She told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "Whatever they're saying is ridiculous. You can say that."
But that's not the way the Grass family tells it.
"Our hearts our broken. This is not a way a person should end their life," Larry Grass said.
He said that, when his parents began having trouble keeping track of their medications, he moved them to Southerland Place.
His father had been diagnosed with glaucoma some 15 years earlier. But, according to his longtime eye doctor, his vision was perfect and would stay that way as long as he got his prescribed eye drops twice a day.
"You paid extra for them to give him his medicine?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Larry Grass.
"We did," he answered.
Grass is now suing Southerland Place alleging employees there did not give his dad the drops like they were supposed to, like he'd been paying them an additional $800 a month to do.
That first became apparent, he recalled, last spring.
"He stopped and said, 'Son, I can't see out of my right eye.' And so then I wiggled my fingers out here and said, 'How many fingers do I have?' And, he said, 'I can't see any fingers.'"
Grass said that his father's eye doctor ran a battery of tests and, according to the lawsuit, determined the "permanent loss of vision" was caused by "Mr. Grass not receiving his glaucoma medications as prescribed" for "at the very least three months" and likely "3-6 months."
Back at Southerland, Grass then discovered boxes of his father's eye drops that had never been opened and at least three bottles of drops that were nearly a year old that had not been used.
The family in the lawsuit says there's no record that Southerland ever ordered any new drops for their father. They say administrators told them they'd been giving John Grass eye drops that belonged to another patient who had died.
"I told them, 'That is illegal. What do you mean?' They said, 'Well, it's the same thing,'" Grass recalled.
But, it turns out, the state Health Department cited Southerland Place in December 2009 for failing to properly dispose of a dead patient's insulin and, according to the report obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Southerland promised it wouldn't happen again.
According to the lawsuit, the Grass family says Southerland Place's version of things later changed and administrators claimed they'd had trouble giving Grass the drops.
"They said, 'He'll squint and they'll run down his cheek or he'll turn his head and we'll miss him and they'll hit the pillow,'" Larry Grass said.
But the Grass family's lawyer said that there's a problem with Southerland Place's explanation.
"The standard of care is very clear, if you don't give them the meds, tell the family and tell the doctor. That never happened," attorney Parke Morris explained.
And, according to the lawsuit, nowhere in John Grass' medical charts does it indicate nurses ever had a problem with the drops. Instead the records show he got his eye drops day in and day out as prescribed.
The lawsuit against Southerland Place claims someone repeatedly falsified the records.
"It's intentional misconduct that was repeatedly done that ended up taking his sight away and there's no excuse for that," said Morris.
Sue Higgins of Southerland Place told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that because of the lawsuit there was little she could say other than that the Grass family's claims are "really out there."
"So, you're saying what they're saying is not true?" we asked Higgins.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates pressed further, "That sounds like what you're saying?"
Higgins responded, "It's ridiculous."
But, attorney Parke Morris asserted, "There were no other possible reasons he's lost his sight except he didn't get his medications. It's that simple."
Simple perhaps, but very difficult for the family to understand how it could happen.
Son Larry Grass said, "How can you as a medical professional knowing that glaucoma will take a person's sight and you're charged with giving him his drops and you do not do it? It's unconscionable."
The lawsuit filed in Williamson County Court today names the corporate owners of Southerland Place. They are based in Florida. We called their corporate office to give them the opportunity to be a part of this story and they hung up on us.
The family is not asking for a specific dollar amount in their lawsuit. Obviously, no amount of money will restore their father's eyesight.
But they say they feel Southerland Place needs to be held accountable and that they want to make sure what happened to their dad doesn't happen to anyone else.