(CN) - The 8th Circuit vacated a $3,500 per day fine against an Arkansas nursing home, saying the finding that the home failed to investigate the suspected abuse of a sickly 86-year-old woman "was based on pure speculation."
The Department of Health and Human Services had fined Grace Healthcare for neglecting to investigate why the elderly woman was covered in bruises.
The woman had been admitted to the nursing home in Benton, Ark., with a history of serious medical conditions, including heart disease, arteriosclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer's dementia and hypertension.
Two days after her admission, she suffered a stroke and was sent to the hospital. When she returned, her doctor placed her on the blood thinner Plavix. Nurses noted bruises on her arm at the sites of IV infusions and blood draws.
She was sent to the emergency room a month later to treat a golf ball-sized lymph node on her neck. Noticing the bruising and dehydration, the ER doctor allegedly tried to contact nurses at Grace Healthcare, but they never returned his calls.
The woman's family complained, triggering an investigation that led to fines for six "immediate jeopardy" violations.
Grace Healthcare appealed, claiming the bruising had been caused by the administration of Plavix and aspirin, not injury or accident.
The 8th Circuit agreed that the immediate jeopardy finding "was based on pure speculation and not supported by substantial evidence."
The court vacated the $3,500 per day penalty and ordered the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to expunge all references to the immediate-jeopardy findings.
"We leave to the agency to decide ... whether further adjudicative proceedings against Grace Healthcare are warranted and appropriate," Chief Judge James Loken concluded.
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