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Family sues nursing home after woman chokes on food, dies

By La’Nita Brooks and Anna Kathman

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    BAY CITY, Michigan (WNEM) — A mid-Michigan family is suing a Bay City nursing home, alleging the facility did nothing to prevent their loved one’s death.

It was the day after Easter in 2022 when Barbara Baranowski choked on her food and died at Bay City Comfort Care.

“They said we found your mom, unresponsive at the dinner table and that we tried to do everything we could. They said they did CPR for an hour and a half and that she didn’t make it,” said Kristen Greenleaf, her daughter.

Greenleaf said she was looking forward to spending the day with her mom, celebrating Easter a day late due to her work schedule.

“I got that call when I woke up that day. So, never got to spend Easter with her,” Greenleaf said.

Greenleaf, who is a nurse, said she immediately knew something didn’t seem right, adding, “I personally requested the fire department records and ambulance records. I just wanted to read them myself and figure out what happened.”

She said her mother began living at the retirement and assisted living facility in 2017 after being diagnosed with Guillan-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its nerves, eventually paralyzing the body.

“She was supposed to be on a mechanical soft diet, and help feeding her, watching her,” Greenleaf said.

But once she got the records from that day, she was shocked to see medical instructions were not followed and proceeded to contact her lawyers.

“The 911 operator had to actually suggest to them that they try CPR. She had been unresponsive on video for an hour, but nobody had noticed, and nobody tried CPR. And they had to guide a medical care facility in how to do CPR,” said Stephan Gaus, an attorney with Garske Hewitt.

Gaus said the video also shows the moment Barbara begin to choke as staff members walked around, adding, “She leaned over forward like she was maybe trying to get it out of her. Then after a while she actually pushed herself back with her wheelchair and her head went way back and her arms up. We don’t have audio, but I am confident she was making noise.”

The family is now suing the facility for more than $25,000 in damages for negligence.

Greenleaf said she can never get her mother back, but she hopes to prevent another family from going through what her family has experienced.

“She was a great person, great grandma, she loved all of us. You know, it’s very hard on all of us right now not having her and knowing that she died that way. It just very traumatic for us all,” Greenleaf said.

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