It was a small, but emotional audience that turned out Tuesday evening for a public hearing on Ruthie's Law, the proposed Erie County regulation of nursing homes prompted by the beating death of Ruth Murray by another patient in a Buffalo nursing home.
Only one legislator, Buffalo's Peter Savage, showed up for the hearing. He is a sponsor of Ruthie's Law.
The bill grows out of the beating death last year in Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Murray's family says the nursing home did not tell the truth about what happened to their loved one or the extent of her injuries.
A nursing home leader said there are already state and federal regulations for nursing homes, which means the county cannot have its own set of rules, including the bill's requirement to notify a family member within an hour of the injuries.
Murray's daughter, Carol Kuszniaj, said there was no sympathy from the nursing home.
"My mother was beat severely and they knew that when they called for her to be transferred to the hospital," said Kuszniaj. "But to tell the family, 'Oh, they're going to evaluate her and send her home,' that's how it works. That's just heartbreaking. It wasn't their mother that was beat. It wasn't their family member that was dying in the hospital."
Other speakers reported somewhat similar stories of injuries, with the family not being told the truth.
Randall Bane came to the hearing from Medina to talk about his mother's death at Christmas. He showed a large picture of her, taken after the nursing home called to say she took a fall.
"'It's okay. You don't need to come over, but she might have hit her head,'" Bane recalled. "In talking with other people who have had this experience, that seems to be kind of code for 'if we tell you that she might have hit her head, then whatever happens to her it's not our fault.'"
After getting his mother out of the home for a family Christmas event in connection with her 100th birthday, Bane said she was in such pain he took her to a hospital, which found undiagnosed leg damage.
She died April 22. Bane said she had been in good health and should have lived for more years.
Randy Gerlach, an administrator of Schofield Residence Nursing Facility and president of District 10 of the New York State Health Facilities Association, said the problem is not nursing home management, but lack of facilities.
"Everyone should focus on the lack of available, suitable places to care for persons who develop severe behavioral problems and pose a risk to other residents," Gerlach said. "Accordingly, we believe that any efforts to better protect residents from such events should address the underlying need to develop more behavioral long-term care beds."