When John Pribil, Jr. admitted his father to a North Miami assisted living facility, he insisted the home make one promise: His dad, a World Wat II veteran, needed to be closely watched to protect him from the ravages of Parkinson’s disease.
But two months later, administrators at Grand Court Lakes left him alone in his room with no call bell, no phone, and no caregivers anywhere in sight. Before dawn on Oct. 5, 2005, a nurse from another building heard a horrifying sound: Pribil, a stocky man who had served a quarter-century in the Marine Corps and had fought at Okinawa, was crying for help. The nurse followed a trail of blood from a sewer grate to Pribil’s shattered body lying on the pavement.
He had plunged from a third-floor balcony — perhaps hours earlier.
Though the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Pribil’s death an accident — he died of blunt force injuries — neither the state Department of Children & Families nor the Agency for Health Care Administration ever investigated it, and no one at the ALF was held responsible.
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“If it were up to me, I’d shut the place down, and put everybody in jail,” said Roxanne Kosberg, 51, John Pribil, Jr.’s longtime girlfriend. “As far as I’m concerned, they killed Mr. Pribil.”
In 2000, Pribil, who also fought in Korea for two years, had surgery to repair damage to a knee. He never really recovered. Three years later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and, in the ensuing years, his wife, Lorraine, found it increasingly difficult to care for him.
“I felt fortunate to find Grand Court Lakes,” said his son, John, 62. “They gave us the tour. They had a nice cafeteria; the lunches looked good.”
Family members feared Pribil might be unhappy at the home because other residents didn’t watch John Wayne movies on a communal television. But when they went to visit him, he seemed happy and well-cared for.
Though he wandered and often got confused — like most elders with dementia — Pribil had no way to contact caregivers for help. Bothered by frequent false alarms, administrators removed the telephones, call buttons and intercoms from the Alzheimer’s wing. Colleen Cobb, the home’s nursing director, testified that pendant alarms offered to residents were worthless because the Alzheimer’s patients would press the buttons “constantly.”
Pribil’s family said they were assured that two aides would be present on the Alzheimer’s floor throughout the night — and Cobb, testified in a sworn statement that one of the caregivers should have been stationed just outside Pribil’s door. The residents with dementia “will wander, and we protected them against that,” Cobb said.
“They told me there would be two nurses — not one — at all times, 24 hours a day so that if something happened they’d be there to take care of it,” said Pribil’s son, 62.
But Pribil had no protection that October morning, when both third-floor aides failed to show up for work.
In her deposition, Cobb’s lawyer refused to let her answer any questions about why the dementia wing was left that night with no staff on duty.
At 6:30 a.m. that morning, John Pribil, Jr. received a call: His father had fallen at the ALF, and had been taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s trauma center. But he was not at all prepared for what he saw. His dad had not just fallen — he’d dropped from the third-floor balcony and was “totally shattered.”
“The doctors said the injuries he’d sustained were ‘non-survivable’,” Pribil said. “His insides had totally exploded. All they could do is keep him comfortable.”
Even years later, family members question how Pribil could have flung himself from a balcony. His body shook violently from the Parkinson’s disease, and he needed help just to feed himself and climb in and out of his wheelchair.
“It never made sense to me how Dad could get over that railing,” Pribil, Jr. said.
And there was one last indignity: “Nobody from the staff ever called to say they were sorry,” said Pribil’s son. “Not one word from anybody.”