A 76-year-old nursing home patient died recently from complications of injuries suffered when he was subdued by a police Taser.
Zheng Diao, who had been behaving erratically, was wielding a knife and scissors when St. Louis Park officers responded to a call for help from the Park Health and Rehab nursing home July 14, according to police.
Officers gestured for Diao, who did not speak English, to drop the weapons when Diao moved the knife toward his throat, according to police. When the officers used the Taser to try to prevent him from harming himself, he fell and seriously injured his face, according to authorities.
Diao, of Blaine, died July 29 at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis from pneumonia that developed as he was being treated for delirium and his injuries, the medical examiner said Wednesday.
A plaintiff’s attorney who specializes in nursing home cases said he was unaware of another instance in which a Taser has been used on a patient.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said attorney Mark Kosieradzki, who has reviewed more than 1,000 cases alleging nursing home abuse and negligence.
Death to be examined
The nursing home facility would not answer questions about the incident, but issued a statement from administrator Kristie Johnsrud in which she described the event as “an unfortunate situation.”
“Our staff responded quickly and appropriately at the time of the incident by immediately contacting the local authorities for assistance,” Johnsrud said.
St. Louis Park police did not return a call seeking further information.
The department’s news release said that it was informed of Diao’s death Aug. 5, and that it plans to enlist an outside agency to investigate.
Diao’s family also declined to comment on his death.
Nationally, law enforcement officials and stun-gun makers have maintained that the devices are a better choice than firearms for police officers trying to subdue someone.
But a number of suspects have died after being subjected to Tasers and a recent study concluded that the devices can set off irregular heart rhythms, leading to cardiac arrest.
The problem of nursing home patients’ acting aggressively is not new but is one that some experts think will become more commonplace as the population ages in coming years.
Health care workers nationwide need more training to help defuse situations before they escalate out of control, said Joe Rodrigues, president of the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs.
“I think we’re going to see more incidents like this,” said Rodrigues, the long-term care ombudsman for California. Like Kosieradzki, Rodrigues said he’d never heard of a Taser being used on a nursing home patient.
Perhaps the best known case of an aggressive patient in Minnesota occurred in 2009 when wrestling legend Verne Gagne, then 82, threw a fellow Alzheimer’s patient to the ground at a Bloomington retirement home. The 97-year-old man later died from a broken hip.
In the Diao case last month, the St. Louis Park facility where he was staying is part of a chain, Extendicare, that is one of the largest nursing home and long-term-care operations in the country.
“We take the safety and well-being of our residents very seriously, and are deeply saddened by the death of Mr. Diao,” Johnsrud said.
Minnesota Department of Health Department spokesman Mike Schommer said he could not comment about whether the agency is investigating the incident.
A review of a department website shows the facility has been investigated eight times in recent years by the state Office of Health Facility Complaints, but none of those cases resulted in substantiated findings against the facility or its employees.
Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777