ST. GEORGE — An assisted living home in St. George is in danger of losing its license and has been fined more than $10,000 by the state after a female resident with dementia was found with hypothermia and frostbite in a kitchen freezer and later died. 

An image shows the outside of The Meadows at Escalante assisted living facility, St. George, Utah, Feb. 13, 2024 | IPhoto by Chris Reed, St. George News

According to a report from the Utah Department of Health and Human Services as well as the family of the deceased, 75-year-old Rickie Rubick was found by staff inside a locked kitchen freezer of The Meadows at Escalante assisted care facility at 950 S 400 East on Jan. 18. 

According to Rubick’s family, when she was found her body temperature was 79 degrees. She died four days later at St. George Regional Hospital.

St. George Police said there will not be a criminal investigation, but the state health department has placed The Meadows on a conditional license through June 30 – meaning the provider is “at risk of losing their license because compliance with licensing rules has not been maintained.” During this period, state inspectors are doing several additional, random monitoring inspections at the facility’s expense.

“A complaint investigation on Jan. 25, 2024 found that a resident became trapped in the facility’s commercial kitchen freezer and later died,” Katie England, a spokesperson with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, told St. George News. “Our deepest condolences are with the person’s loved ones as they grieve this loss.”

According to the health department investigation report, The Meadows was fined $11,200 and found in violation of eight health department rules. 

L-R: Photo shows Tony Rubick with his mom Rickie during a 2023 hike above St. George, Utah | Photo courtesy of Tony Rubick, St. George News

The largest violation – labeled as “extreme” and accounting for $10,500 of the fine – was for being out of compliance with having an admistrator on the premises enough hours in the business day and not ensuring the facility is safe from possible hazards. 

“During the inspection, it was discovered that a resident accessed the kitchen through unlocked doors, became trapped in the facility’s commercial kitchen freezer and later expired,” the health department report said. 

Corey Jenkins, the director of sales and marketing for The Meadows at Escalante, told St. George News that facility staff will not comment at this time concerning the death of Rubick or the health department investigation.

“We are not at liberty to disclose any of our residents because of HIPPA,” Jenkins said. 

The Meadows was also found to be out of compliance for not ensuring qualified personnel were on site 24 hours per day, not maintaining written injury and incident reports, not implementing a quality assurance program, having unqualified staff administer medications, not having a current contract with a registered nurse and not updating cognitive assessments.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 applies to health facilities and providers but does not include the news media among entities that have to comply.

Jenkins directed any further comment, saying that comments would be coming from Integral Senior Living LLC, which is the managing company for The Meadows. The Meadows Executive Director Tom Trump did not reply to a request for comment by St. George News. 

After contacting Integral, St. George News was told it had “already been contacted” and directed further inquiries to Jeffrey Smith, vice president of sales and marketing for the assisted living provider, who provided the following statement:

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of one of our residents and our hearts go out to the family with our deepest sympathies. Our onsite and regional team members are saddened by this loss. We politely ask that you respect the privacy and confidentiality of our resident and her family. Please know, our entire team remains 100% dedicated to the service and care of our community members. ” 

An image shows the outside of The Meadows at Escalante assisted living facility, St. George, Utah, Feb. 13, 2024 | IPhoto by Chris Reed, St. George News

Along with the penalties from the state health department, the family says they will be suing the facility and its managing company.

“This is a system failure,” said attorney Brian Hansen, who is representing St. George resident Tony Rubick, the son of the deceased, and the rest of the family. 

According to Hansen, the system failure included the search for Rickie Rubick when facility staff realized that she was missing from her room.

“She wanders, which is common for dementia patients. And when they found that she was missing, they started looking in other rooms and even made comments to the police that they noticed that the kitchen was unlocked, which was unusual and against their policy,” Hansen said. “But they didn’t go look in the kitchen, they just kept looking in rooms. Eventually, they go and look in the kitchen, don’t see her, and then they finally go look in the walk-in freezer and she’s on the ground, curled up in a ball that the body temperature, according to the hospital records when she got there, was 79 degrees.”

Hansen said at the hospital, along with the hypothermia doctors found severe frostbite of Rubick’s hands and feet. (Images of that damage are included at the end of this article, though they may be disturbing for some readers.)

“They kind of kept her, kept her alive at the hospital for a little bit until she passed from all those issues, including cardiac arrest shock,” Hansen said. “She went through the wringer.” 

L-R: Rickie Rubick with her son Tony Rickie, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tony Rubick, St. George News

It is not the first time in the nation that a nursing home resident with dementia died after being locked in an assisted living facility freezer. In 2020, an 86-year-old resident with dementia at a home in Dayton, Ohio died after she was found in a walk-in freezer.  

Integral Senior Living, which took over management of The Meadows at Escalante in 2021, became the fifth-largest senior housing provider in the nation last year when it acquired Discovery Senior Living

According to the family, the facility never called 911 or first responders, transporting Rubick herself to the hospital. 

“We did not respond, but we are aware of it,” St. George Police officer Tiffany Mitchell told St. George News. “We aren’t doing an investigation. There was no law broken.”

While there isn’t a criminal complaint against the home, Hansen said there is still a crime of negligence.

“We know this wasn’t intentional, but there is negligence and recklessness. They have a duty to protect her and keep her safe. That’s job No. 1 in any type of facility like this,” Hansen said. “And as part of that, they’ve got to properly trained, they’ve got to properly supervise. And we don’t think either of those things took place in this case.”

Rubick’s family members say other than her dementia, she was a fit woman who looked decades younger.

Rubick grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of North Hollywood, graduating from U.S. Grant High and spent her entire life in Southern California.

After her dementia diagnosis in the last few years, she moved in with her son Tony in St. George, and according to Hansen fell in love with the Southern Utah outdoors. But in the last year as the dementia grew worse, Hansen said Tony Rubick was not able to care for his mom 24/7 and checked her into the Meadows.

“He believes this story needs to be shared to protect those who cannot protect themselves. He toured the facility prior to his mom becoming a resident and it never crossed his mind to verify the security of their internal service doors,” Hansen said. “She was in really good physical health. I’ve got pictures of her and her son doing hikes in St. George within a year of this.”

Photo Gallery (Caution: Some readers may find some of the images disturbing)

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