Two nurses lost their licenses after a television station persuaded courts to unseal a video secretly recorded by the family of a man who died in their care.
The video shows the World War II veteran repeatedly calling for help, saying he can't breathe. It also shows the nurses failing to take lifesaving measures and laughing as they try to start an oxygen machine, reports AP
The family of 89-year-old James Dempsey of Woodstock, Georgia, sued the Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation Center in 2014.
The nurses were meant to be fixing an oxygen mask onto 89-year-old James Dempsey after he called for help saying he couldn't breathe.
But a surveillance camera captured them laughing as the breathing machine failed, and Dempsey fell unconscious, and records show they waited an hour to call 911.
One of the nurses is seen laughing so hard she is doubled over Dempsey's deathbed, according to the Daily Mail.
Initially, Dempsey's family in Woodstock, Georgia, thought he had died of natural causes in Northeast Atlanta Health and Rehabilitation Center in 2014.
However, his son Tim had promised they would install a hidden camera when he first moved in there as he feared mistreatment.
Weeks after Dempsey's death, Tim reviewed the footage - and what he saw sparked a three-year legal battle.
Despite watching the video in court in 2015, the nurses kept their licenses until now that local television station WXIA-TV/11A live persuaded the court to release the footage to the public.
WXIA-TV/11Alive says the nurses didn't surrender their licenses until this September, after it sent The Georgia Board of Nursing a link to the video the nursing home fought three years to keep secret.
And now, it has been shared publicly.
The newly-released video includes the deposition in court on November 23, 2015.
The video was played to the courtroom as the family's lawyer Mike Prieto questioned former nursing supervisor Wanda Nuckles.
Before playing the video, Nuckles tells the court nurses were giving Dempsey CPR repeatedly until the emergency services arrived. As the video rolls, the courtroom sees that did not happen.
The video starts with Dempsey, a decorated soldier, repeatedly calling for help, saying he can't breathe. He also presses the call light, which flashes on at 4.35am. He then appears to start losing consciousness.
A nurse does not appear until 4.42am (local time), at which point she readjusts the bed, turns off the call light, and leaves, as Dempsey struggles for air.
Prieto asks Nuckles if that is an acceptable period of time, to which she responds "nope". He asks if Dempsey appears to be gasping for air, to which she responds, "yep".
"How does it make you feel watching this video?" the lawyer asks. "Sick," Nuckles replies.
The video then cuts to 6.23pm (local time), when Nuckles and another nurse enter the room. They fix his blanket and adjust his bed as Dempsey lies motionless.
Prieto says to Nuckles: "Contrary to the way you testified previously, there's no one doing CPR, is there?" Nuckles replies: "No."
They watch on. Another nurse enters, and all three stand around the bed talking.
At 6.30pm (local time), as they try unsuccessfully to restart the oxygen machine and Dempsey takes his final breaths, the three appear to be laughing - with one of the nurses doubled over laughing.
In the courtroom, Prieto stops the tape and asks Nuckles: "Ma'am was there something funny happening at 6.30am on February 27, 2014 in the middle of this attempt to resuscitate Mr Dempsey?"
Nuckles replies: "I have no clue sir, I have no clue. I can't even remember all that, as you can see."
Prieto asks: "Do you see any sense of urgency on the part of any of the medical providers here ma'am? Including yourself?"
Nuckles replies: "I think I was doing pretty good considering I didn't have anything good to work with."
Prieto says: "Ok well when you testified earlier that you walked in and started giving CPR until the EMTs showed up, that wasn't really the truth was it?"
Nuckles replies: "Sir that was an honest mistake because I was just basing everything on what I normally do."
The video continues showing all nurses leaving, with Nuckles remaining. She adjusts his bed, and fixes a breathing machine onto Dempsey's face. She then performs six chest compressions then stops.
"Any reasons to stop after six chest compressions there ma'am?" Prieto asks.
"Not that I know of," Nuckles says.
WXIA said records showed the nursing home has built up $813,000 in Medicare fines since 2015.
And while it received a strong inspection report in May, it still has Medicare's lowest score, a one-star rating.
This case has emerged amid a slew of allegations against nursing homes, some associated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs, regarding care and treatment.
It is illegal in Georgia to install a hidden camera in a nursing home without prior consent from the nurses and the establishment. However, the revelations from the footage absolved Dempsey's family of charges.
Speaking to Channel 2, Tim Dempsey said he had assumed his father's suspicions were over-the-top.
"We would have just thought it was natural causes and everything was done that should have been done and he passed away in his sleep," Tim Dempsey told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman.
But reviewing the footage, he said he felt "shock" and "dismay" at watching the nurses, adding: "we've seen these people everyday."
A statement from the centre says care has improved since then, under different leadership.
- AP, Daily Mail