After Fertilizer Blast, Nursing Home Deaths Higher Than Usual

June 20, 2013

While the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, destroyed much of the nursing home next to it, almost all of its residents survived that first night.

But two months after the blast, 14 of the residents have died.

That’s almost twice as many residents who would be expected to die in a normal two months at West Rest Haven, administrator Rose Ann Morris told The Dallas Morning News.

Many of West Rest Haven’s residents were already sick, but experts and relatives of those who have died since the April 17 blast say the unusual stress of the explosion could have hastened their deaths.

“At this state in their life, everything is supposed to be rolling along smoothly … a peaceful existence,” said Jeanette Ayers, whose mother, Mary Jaska, died May 30 after suffering broken ribs, concussion and bruises in the blast. “And that was everything but.”

The blast killed 15 people, injured 200 and destroyed much of the surrounding neighborhood, including West Rest Haven, which is walking distance from the plant.

A significant number of the people displaced by the blast were in their 70s and 80s. Some watched the homes they had lived in for decades get torn down after the blast caved in roofs and damaged walls. Many people lost vital documents, paperwork and belongings collected over a lifetime.

That shock could have affected residents’ health, said Dr. George Smith, the nursing home’s medical director, who was also involved in the immediate response to the blast.

“That has to contribute to some degree,” Smith said. “If they were already ill, that may be just enough to push them over the edge.”

Stasie Janek, 94, was “treated like a queen” at West Rest Haven, her daughter Stasie Cocek said. Janek had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The blast forced her to be taken to four different nursing homes, and Cocek said her medical care wasn’t as good.

After a fall, she developed a bedsore, and her health declined. She died June 7, according to a funeral home obituary.

Cocek said she didn’t think the blast was a direct cause of her mother’s death, but it “rushed” the end.

Joe Machovsky, 89, suffered from dementia and appeared more confused after the blast, smiling less, his daughter Lillian Christensen said. He died May 26.

“I can’t blame the blast for his death, but it affected him,” Christensen said. “Took him out of his comfort zone and for old people, that’s really important.”

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