Austin’s Girling Health Care named in wrongful death suit

DALE, Texas (KXAN) – The shooting death last December of a 47-year-old man at his uncle’s rural Caldwell County house has led to a wrongful death lawsuit against Girling Health Care, the company which employed the man’s caregiver.

Caldwell County deputies found the body of Russell Martens during a welfare check last December. The father of three had been shot twice in an apparent burglary attempt. Days after the killing, three local men were arrested in an unrelated incident. Police arrest records show items found in a car the trio was riding in belonged to Pete Dobbins, Martens’ uncle. Martens’ laptop and eyeglasses were also found in the vehicle, the police report shows.

Martens’ widow, Paula Kaye Martens, sat down with KXAN Investigator Robert Maxwell and said her husband  had come to Texas from their home in Alabama to move her uncle Pete in with them.

Paula Kaye’s uncle Pete says he was having trouble with his home care provider and wanted help. She and Russell didn’t hesitate.

“We were going to make room,” she said, “That’s what you do (for family).”

At 62, Paula Kaye’s uncle Pete Dobbins was bedridden. But he told KXAN he still possesses his faculties.

“There’s nothing wrong with my mind, a lot wrong with my body, my mind is still working,” he said from a wheelchair during a recent interview.

After his health deteriorated and led to hospital visits in 2013, Dobbins decided he needed help taking care of himself. He says he chose Girling Health Care since his parents had once also contracted with the Austin-based company. But there were problems. The civil suit he and his niece filed contends Pete’s caregiver, employed by Girling  “was allowing (her boyfriend), Trey Hopes onto the property” without Pete’s permission. The suit also alleges the caregiver and Hopes  “had stolen cash and food from (Dobbins’) home.”

Dobbins says he complained to Girling first about the guest he says was uninvited, then a second time about the alleged thefts of food and cash. The lawsuit alleges there was also an attempt to hack into Dobbins’ online bank account.

KXAN reached out to the company for comment. A spokesperson emailed a response indicating it “suspended the aide named in this suit, launched an internal investigation and immediately removed her from patient contact and care.” Perhaps confusing the timeline, the statement says the employee removal happened in August, months before Martens’ murder.

Dobbins insists he fired the girl in late October and called for help from family.

“I told her to take off down the road, take off walking and just get out of my house,” Dobbins said.

Either way, Russell Martens arrived to help with the move the weekend before Thanksgiving 2013, Paula Kaye recollects. A week later, Dobbins suffered a setback. It meant time recovering in the hospital for heart trouble before the move. Time away from his house, meant he worried about his dogs, according to Paula Kaye.

“Russell went home (to Pete’s) every evening to make sure the dogs were fed, make sure the house was warm for the dogs,” Paula Kaye said.

Murder in Caldwell County

Russell Marten

The evening of December 6th, as he always did, Russell called his wife Paula Kaye at their home in Alabama.

“The last words out of our mouth every night (were) ‘Good night, I love you,’” she recalled.

The next morning Paula Kaye’s phone did not ring. She called the Sheriff’s Office. By the afternoon, it became clear the worst had happened.

“They said there was a body in the house, but he had not been positively identified,” Paula Kaye said through tears of grief.

According to the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office arrest affidavit naming Trey Hopes, his “girlfriend had worked for” Dobbins.  And Hopes “knew of a location where the three suspects could commit an easy robbery.”

Similar reports naming the other two suspects show one of them, Pedro Lucio III confessed to shooting Russell – once in the throat, a second time in the head as he sat on the couch.

The criminal trial in Caldwell County District Court is in the pre-trial phase. It is expected to be called to trial in the 2015. Both Paula Kaye and Dobbins say they will return to Caldwell County for the trial.

Pete Dobbins never moved in with Paula Kaye at the home she long shared with Russell south of Tuscaloosa, Ala., although she says he’s welcome. Dobbins did leave his small, tin-roofed house in Dale last spring, shortly after the murder. His old pickup truck remains at the isolated, five-acre property at the end of a private road he once shared with three neighbors. Large water containers still litter the front porch.

The porch railings remain decorated with rusting antique tools Pete collected. He once worked as a ranch manager in rural Travis County. Now, he is staying with other family elsewhere in Texas, away from the bad memories, as he calls them. The property is listed for sale, Dobbins said.

The suit he and Paula Kaye filed asks for damages of $1 million even though Paula Kaye acknowledges it will never bring their loved one back.

The civil suit Paula Kaye filed alleges Russell, her husband of 28 years lost his life because of Girling’s ‘negligence in hiring, training and supervising the caregiver.’ – or could it be this was simply an unpredictable tragedy?

“That’s what we’re going find out,” Paula Kaye said.

Girling Home Health Full Statement to KXAN:

“Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your inquiry.  Girling takes very seriously our responsibility to ensure the well-being, safety and security of the patients in our care and their families.  And we were saddened to learn of a senseless tragedy involving a relative of a patient – the family has our sympathies.

Regarding your questions, although federal HIPAA patient privacy regulations and our policies regarding pending litigation restrict our ability to comment on specifics, we can clarify some points that illustrate our company’s commitment to addressing patient concerns and to having in place industry leading hiring and employment processes.   We can also tell you that as part of our hiring process, Girling conducts extensive pre-employment background checks – including checks for criminal records.

We can further note that back in August 2013, following a patient complaint, Girling suspended the aide named in this suit, launching an internal investigation, and immediately removing her from patient contact and care. Her last day of assigned work for Girling was in August 2013, four months before the tragedy.”

- Girling Home Health spokesperson

Licensing rules do not require providers to provide the Department of Aging and Disability Services a policy on background checks, but rules do require the home health agency to conduct criminal history checks as authorized by, and in compliance with, Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 250.  A DADS spokesperson told KXAN the agency does not require a copy of any policy an agency may have for background checks with the license application.  Records show Girling has had a seven-year license for its Austin facility since November 30th 2007.

Here are the Licensing rules from 40 Texas Administrative Code, Section 97.247.

Complaints against home health care providers


Using public records from the Department of Aging and Disability Services, which regulates home care providers in Texas, KXAN looked into complaints against Girling and 36 other similar-sized companies based on population served. Under headings such as:

  • Misappropriation/ Exploitation - Attempting to use the resources (social security number or other identifying information of the alleged victim for monetary or personal benefit, profit, gain without the “informed consent” of the alleged victim – that includes theft.  When the alleged perpetrator is a paid caretaker, financial exploitation includes, but is not limited to Theft in Texas Penal Code, Chapter 31 (theft offenses)
  • Abuse, verbal/ mental – caused or may have caused emotional abuse- curse, vilify, humiliate, degrade, or threaten where a reasonable person would consider emotionally harmful
  • Abuse, physical - caused or may have caused physical injury, emotional harm or death

Between Jan. 1st, 2011 and Aug. 8th, 2014, Girling’s Austin office on Northland Drive (it has others in Brownsville and Dallas) was the subject of 661 complaints or self-reported incidents. Of those, 14 were deemed substantiated. KXAN has asked for narratives of the 14 Girling cases.

KXAN also received records showing the home health companies with the most complaints after Girling Austin. Girling offices in Brownsville and Dallas are in the top 5. Standards Home Care in Bastrop is listed as having 15 complaints/incidents and Austin Home Health with 8 over the more than three-year period.

DADS records show the vast majority of the complaints listed,  which include many self-reported incidents as required by state law, were referred to the division of Adult Protective Services(APS) within the Department of Family and Protective Services. Its staff examine individuals employed by DADS-regulated companies.

Much of that information is protected by privacy laws. Any reports referred to APS would stay private.  However, 2013 DFPS annual report numbers show elder in-home complaints are not isolated.

DADS Citations and Enforcement Actions

KXAN also requested citation and enforcement action records from DADS since 2011 and found Girling had five licensing-related citations in four separate cases.

GOING IN-DEPTH:  
Number of Complaints in Texas
Total Intake Reports 2013 :  87,26
Completed In-Home Investigations:  69,383
Validated In-Home Investigations:  48,392
Unable to determine:  5,107

Girling in Austin is listed under the name Girling Community Care by Harden Healthcare after recent corporate mergers. Both Girling and Harden are now under the banner of Gentiva Health Services based in Atlanta, GA.

Girling Austin is not listed as being a subject of pending enforcement actions which can result in administrative penalties. But two Central Texas companies are:

  • Austin Home Health on Southwest Parkway
  • Standards Home Health in Bastrop

We’re still waiting to hear back what those enforcement actions dealt with and any penalties levied.

 

Number of complaints of similar sized agencies
Agency Name City Finding #
JORDAN HEALTH SERVICES ARLINGTON SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 18
GIRLING COMMUNITY CARE TEXAS BY HARDEN HEALTHCARE AUSTIN SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 13
GIRLING COMMUNITY CARE TEXAS BY HARDEN HEALTHCARE BROWNWOOD SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 10
ABUNDANT LIFE HOME HEALTH INC BROWNSVILLE SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 10
GIRLING COMMUNITY CARE TEXAS BY HARDEN HEALTHCARE DALLAS SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 6
STARR HOME HEALTH AGENCY RIO GRANDE CITY SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 3
TEXAS HOME HEALTH SKILLED SERVICES HOUSTON SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 2
JORDAN HEALTH SERVICES ABILENE SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 2
GIRLING HOME HEALTH SAN ANTONIO SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 2
ST FRANCIS HEALTH CARE SERVICES INC HOUSTON SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 1
PROFESSIONAL HOME HEALTH CARE INC EULESS SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 1
PRIDE PHC SERVICES INC SAN ANTONIO SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 1
PARADIGM HOMECARE TYLER SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 1
COOPER HOME HEALTH INC COOPER SUBSTANTIATED, NOT CITED 1

Filing a complaint against your home health care provider

The state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services has the following avenues (click on the titles) to research a caregiver, a provider and file a complaint:

DADS Complaints

DADS Employee Discipline Registry

DADS Facility Quality (state and federal standards)

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