By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
More than six hours after the ants were first seen on Taylor, a nurse's aid reported finding dead fire ants in Taylor's pubic hair. Tears were streaming down Taylor's face. Osborn got the call.
"When I walked in, she had the look on her face that I knew something was wrong," Osborn says. "I kind of looked around, and she was sitting in a chair, and they had her feet propped up, and I threw back the blanket that they had on her because I was looking at her arms and her legs to see where the ants had bit her. I couldn't find any.
"I was looking, and I threw the blanket back and saw they didn't have a diaper on her, and I cannot tell you the horror that I felt when I saw where she had been bitten and what they looked like at this point. Of course I immediately hugged her, and I was just in tears when I saw what had happened to her, and then after I consoled her, and then I just flew out of the room and I went down to find the director of nursing.
"I said, 'A couple of ants, what are you talking about?' They made light of the situation. I said, 'Have you seen it?' I asked the nurse. They were just as nonchalant about it as you could possibly be.
"From the time they had seen them, they had festered, they had pus in them and she [the supervisor] was very shocked herself," Osborn says. "She admitted to me, yes, it's much worse than what she'd seen earlier.
"I can't tell you how upset I was. There were hundreds and hundreds of bites...she could not call for help, and she could not move. To me that is inhumane."
Joy Taylor could rarely talk, but she was alive and aware of her surroundings, Osborn says. She winced when pricked with a needle and occasionally spoke to her daughters and nursing home workers.
Carolyn Osborn says she's not an emotional person, but in the telling of finding her mother and going home after the attack, she sniffles and becomes teary.
"I can't even tell you what it was like that night. I came home; my sister and I cried and talked on the phone for hours. I was so upset."
After the attack, Taylor's physical condition rapidly deteriorated, Osborn says.
"I saw her immediately go down after she was stung by the ants. I'm not saying she didn't have some problems--she was 90 years old," she says. "But she was holding her own as well as she could, and for months there she was doing fine. As far as her taking a turn for the worse, she definitely took a turn for the worse after the attack."
The family wanted to move Taylor right after the attack but it took them about three more weeks to find an open bed. On September 26, after being moved back to the nursing home in Bowie, Joy Taylor died. Osborn says she's convinced that the attack hastened the arrival of her death.
Schmidt, whose expertise includes the effects of insect venom, isn't familiar with Taylor's case in particular but says the fire ant toxins would typically not have affected Taylor physically for more than a few days, and he doubts her death was directly caused by the attack.
"If she lived a month, I would almost automatically say it was not directly related to the toxicity of the venom," he says.
Workers from the Texas Department of Human Services Long Term Care Regulatory branch went to the home after they heard from Osborn. They interviewed nursing home employees and told home operators that the ants would need to be eradicated within 24 hours or the facility would be closed. The state fined the home $275,000 in administrative penalties. The home, is owned and operated by Delta Health Care Services and managed by Tutera Health Care Management, a Kansas City, Missouri-based health care management company that manages about 50 nursing homes in 10 states. The latter company has not paid the state fines and is appealing the matter. No hearing date is set or apparently is being set for the appeal, a spokeswoman at the Texas Department of Human Services said. The federal regulatory agency for nursing homes proposed a $29,800 fine. The Tutera management group paid $18,500, a spokesman for the Health Care Finance Administration says. (Even though the Tutera group name was on the check to the federal government, a Tutera spokesman says Cross Timbers Inc. actually paid the fine.) The state agency also ordered all sorts of changes at the home as part of a "plan of correction." The number of staff members was supposed to be increased, patients were supposed to be cleaned regularly, and a comprehensive pest-control plan was supposed to be implemented. According to Rosemary Patterson at the Texas Department of Human Services, Cross Timbers had no other major incidents after Taylor's attack in 1998.
Joy Taylor's three children are suing Cross Timbers Care Center and the owners and managers. Carolyn Osborn says they want to send all nursing home owners the message that you cannot treat the elderly as her mother was treated. The federal fine was a joke, and the state fine is being appealed and will probably go away, she says. The lawsuit, which alleges that Taylor suffered mental anguish, physical pain, and disfigurement, names more than a half-dozen defendants including Tutera Health Care Management, Delta Health Inc., and the nursing home administrator at the time of the attack.