Lubbock, TX (KCBD) – Authorities are investigating the death of a man who may have frozen to death at the Tumbleweed nursing home in Brownfield.
Police say Willie Joe Byers, 71, died after being outside for several hours in freezing temperatures. Police say he was found by a nursing home worker at around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, in the outdoor courtyard at the Tumbleweed Nursing Home.
Police say Byers was found un-responsive, near a shed on the tumbleweed property around 8 am yesterday morning.
Deion Mitchell, Byer's Nephew, said that he "found out about his Uncle's death from a family friend, who knew someone that works at the facility. We had no idea that he was even transferred to the Tumbleweed Nursing Home."
Byers was transferred to Tumbleweed from a nursing home in Denver City, that was recently shut down by the state. Police say he arrived at Tumbleweed at 10:00 p.m. along with seven other individuals.
According to Byer's nephew, police told him "Surveillance cameras show that Willie walked out of the facilities back courtyard door and apparently fell and hit his head while outside, and was found lying next to a shed."
"He is a wanderer, he has dementia and Alzheimer's which means when you take someone out of one environment you have to keep a close watch on them," Mitchell added.
Because of these facts, his nephew feels that staff should have kept a close eye on him during cold weather.
A nurse who wished to remain anonymous spoke exclusively to KCBD NewsChannel 11. We independently verified that the nurse is an employee of the facility.
The nurse told us they are supposed to check on residents every two hours. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability tells us that if a facility accepts a new resident that is reported to have dementia and/or a history of wandering, the resident should be closely monitored.
The nurse continued, that they never check on residents. "They only do it when they can't find somebody, then they'll go do it, but other than that no."
I asked the nurse does management think the nurses are checking on residents of the nursing home every two hours?
"He knows we dont do it we just started doing it because all of ya'll started walking into the building. They just barely today put alarms on the doors."
We asked if it was easy for patients to just walk out of the facility. "Oh yes, ahuh they can be outside for hours and we don't even know it," the nurse said.
And the nurse says this isnt the first time a patient has gone missing. "Over the weekend they had a resident that went out the gate and he hitch hiked to another town," the nurse continued.
Brownfield Police confirmed that a resident did leave the facility and was found in Aspermont over the weekend.
We checked the Department of Aging and Disability's public records online. They show the Tumbleweed facility has not met federal standards in the past.
We sent Tumbleweed Nursing Home the information we recieved from the nurse and gave them the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
They released this statement:
"As we previously stated yesterday this matter is still under investigation. we are not going to respond to anonymous individuals who are clearly without knowledge regarding resident care practices at the Tumbleweed facility."
Byers nephew says he spoke to the manager of tumbleweed yesterday. "All he could really say was sorry, but sorry is not gonna bring my uncle back, " Deion Mitchell said.
The nurse also tells us that two of the employees working the night Willie Byers died have resigned.
The family says they plan to seek legal action and The Department of Aging and Disability is still investigating and will release a full report in the coming weeks.
Police are still investigating the cause of death and Byers body was transferred to Lubbock for an autopsy.