WALLA WALLA -- A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Walla Walla County Superior Court alleges a local assisted-living facility neglected to care for a patient, resulting in action that ultimately caused her death.
On Friday an administrator at Washington Odd Fellows Home denied the numerous allegations contained in the lawsuit, which was filed by the Kennewick-based law firm of Rettig Osborne Forgette.
Brothers Zahi Zalloua and Mounir Zalloua of Walla Walla say in a court document that their mother, Aida Anbra Zalloua, died April 12, 2010, after falling from a window in an upper-floor room at Washington Odd Fellows Home.
The plaintiffs say their mother was admitted to the care facility in August of 2009, suffering from a number of complaints, including dementia, depression, hypertension and deep vein thrombosis. She had also attempted suicide in the past, all of which was made known to staff at Odd Fellows.
The patient experienced worsening depression and paranoia in late 2009 and early 2010, her children state in the lawsuit. She began giving away possessions and saying she did not want to live.
Whitman College professor Zahi Zalloua, who held power of attorney for his mother, requested a meeting with the agency's resident physician, but the doctor refused the meeting, court documents say.
By late March, Aida refused food and Zahi expressed his concern in a message to a nurse at Odd Fellows, but says in the lawsuit no one returned his call.
Aida was assigned a room on the top floor at the Boyer Avenue facility, with an unlocked window large enough for an adult to "easily pass through, with a door that locked from the inside," despite Odd Fellows staff knowing of her worsening physical and mental health and suicidal behavior, the Zallouas say in a court paper.
The lawsuit says the nonprofit elder-care facility failed on various levels, including staff training, responding to the family's concerns, appropriate supervision and in protecting the deceased women from abuse and harm, including hurting herself. Odd Fellows also allegedly did not have Aida's condition properly evaluated and treated.
All these factors led to the woman's death, the court documents allege.
There is no argument that Aida Zalloua's death a year ago was "devastating" for residents and staff, John Brigham said Friday. "It's still devastating.
Counseling was obtained for every resident and staff member who wanted to participate after the event, the administrator at Odd Fellows noted.
He was told of Aida's suicide attempt of a decade ago, Brigham said, but was not aware of recent signs of the suicidal behavior referred to in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges an "outbreak of food poisoning," which never happened, he added.
Aida's death was investigated by Walla Walla Police Department, the Department of Social and Human Services and the Walla Walla County coroner. "Those investigations revealed this was accidental and there was no wrongdoing," Brigham said.
The deceased was lodged in her fourth-floor room from the beginning of her stay at Odd Fellows, which was the assisted-living space available at the time of her admission and known to Aida's family.
The room does have an opening window, with a screen "meant to keep bugs out but not people in," he said. "It wasn't barred."
The death was "extremely unfortunate and unexpected," but in no way related to neglect, Brigham said. "I would emphatically deny any allegation that Odd Fellows failed to provide any of the care and services that we are known for."
The lawsuit and the incident it stemmed from raises an issue near and dear to the hearts of baby boomers everywhere, said Stephen Osborne, attorney for the plaintiffs. "Our mothers and fathers are living longer because of medical science and the quality of life isn't there and they end up being in a care facility.
"It's like looking in the mirror and wondering if in 20 years this could be me."
Everyone wants and hopes for the best for their aging parents, Osborne pointed out. "Hopefully, this will keep other families from having to go through this."
His firm did send two letters to Odd Fellows, offering to mediate the case, and received no response, he added. "They left us no alternative. My clients did not think dropping the case was appropriate."