Report: 2 workers at Minn. rest home where wounded chaplain fell before dying were neglectful

August 26th, 2009

Workers at home where chaplain fell criticized

MINNEAPOLIS — A patient at a Minnesota nursing home who fell and later died was neglected by two health care workers there, according to a report from state health officials in what appears to be an investigation into the death of a chaplain who had been injured in Iraq.

The investigative report from the Minnesota Department of Health does not name the patient because of privacy laws, and spokesman John Steiger would not confirm the identity Tuesday.

However, details in the report match those previously reported about the accident at St. Therese Home in New Hope on June 20 that preceded the death of the Rev. Tim Vakoc. The priest was believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq.

The state investigation refers to a patient who hit his head after he fell out of a mechanical lift while being moved by two staff members. He died at a hospital later that day.

The investigation said the two employees, both nursing assistants, did not follow procedures for using the lift despite having been trained to do so. “Neglect did occur,” the report states.

The employees, who were not named in the report, will be barred from providing care to patients in any facility licensed by the Department of Health. The report’s findings were also forwarded to local police and prosecutors.

The report said St. Therese administrators responded properly after the accident and that the facility itself would not face further consequences. The home’s administrator did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday night.

Vakoc, a Robbinsdale native who was 49 when he died, became an Army chaplain in 1996. He was returning from celebrating a Mass with troops near Mosul on May 29, 2004, when he was struck by a bomb blast that severely injured his brain and cost him an eye. He was believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq.

He was hospitalized at both Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, and underwent numerous surgeries. He had slowly started recognizing friends and families, and spoke again for the first time about three years ago. He was transferred to St. Therese at the end of 2006.

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