Family wants answers in nun's death

February 4, 2009 6:12:34 PM PST
The family of a 90-year-old nun killed in a nursing home in Rockland County is speaking out.They thought the death of Sister Mary Murray was an accident. But after the Eyewitness News Investigators uncovered past problems with the closet that fell on her, the family is now demanding an investigation to determine if what happened was a crime.

Sister Murray had a large and loving family.

"We felt very protective of her, as she did of us," nephew Daniel Murray said.

Daniel Murray was her guardian. He trusted the Summit Park Nursing Home, operated by Rockland County, to take good care of his 90-year-old aunt. But the closet in her room toppled over, crushing and eventually killing her:

"We were lead to believe, yes, it was a freak accident, that it never happened before," Daniel said.

Then, he saw the Eyewitness News investigation and learned for the first time that prior to his aunt's death, two other people were injured at the home by falling closets.

"I became very angry, especially when I knew it could have been prevented," Daniel said. "All of this could have been prevented. My aunt could have been with us today."

Murray now believes the nursing home was trying to cover up the previous accidents, since they never reported them to the health department and never told the family about them.

What is hard to comprehend, he says, is why after the first two closets toppled over, the home still neglected to bolt the other 298 closets to the wall. Had they done so, he says, Sister Mary would still be enjoying her family.

"It went beyond negligence," Daniel said. "It was more of a callous disregard of the safety of the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and the infirmed."

The Investigators' Jim Hoffer asked the nursing home.

Hoffer: "You're the head of the nursing home. Why did it take the death of Sister Mary before the closets were bolted down?"
Administrator: "I can't comment."

There has been no disciplinary action against anyone at Summit Park, although the state Department of Health inspected the home and found "immediate jeopardy to resident health and safety." The home was fined $17,000.

"It's almost beyond belief that they got a very measly fine and business goes on as usual," Daniel said. "No one seems to really be held accountable."

The Rockland County District Attorney's Office has handed the case over to the attorney general, who has jurisdiction over investigations of crimes in nursing homes. ---

STORY BY: The Investigators' Jim Hoffer