(KMSP) - Mary Wittman was just a few months shy of 100 years old and despite the onset of dementia, she still showed a sparkle of wit at the sight of the logo on her daughter’s iPhone, while her daughter took some video of her.
"Somebody took a bite out of the apple though," Mary joked.
That was before that awful day.
She had surgery at St. Cloud hospital to repair a fractured hip. A few days later, she was strapped to a gurney and loaded into a medical transport van for a 36-mile drive back to her nursing home.
It was just her and the driver in the Care Cab.
When they arrived at Koronis Manor in Paynesville, Mary was screaming, kicking, and covered in blood.
"It looked like a wild animal had gotten a hold of her hands," said her daughter Kay Bomstad.
She took pictures of her mom's injuries.
According to medical records, the driver said Wittman, "received those skin tears from pulling her arms out from underneath the safety belts."
Apparently, the combination of her dementia, the anesthesia from surgery and being with a stranger sent her into a panic, which lasted the entire ride and continued at the nursing home.
"I said, 'Mom, it's me, it's me, calm down' and she'd look at me and just grab my hand and bite. She was a mess," remembered Bomstad.
Her mother never did recover from the ordeal.
She passed away two weeks later.
DAUGHTER WANTED TO BE WITH MOTHER DURING RIDE
"Had I been notified from the hospital when she was going to be released, I’d have been there," Bomstad said.
She remembers asking for and expected a heads up when her mom was leaving the hospital.
Medical records show Wittman was in a "terribly agitated" condition on the day of her release.
Even more reason, for her to be notified so she could've been at her mother's side for the ride back to the nursing home said Bomstad.
"I can see her becoming probably fearful, ‘Where is Kay?’ and, 'You know where am I going?’" she said.
Two days after her mother's traumatic transport, Bomstad spoke with the driver.
She remembers the driver telling her that a hospital nurse had warned him the patient he was picking up might be trouble.
"She said, 'I hope sir you have rubber gloves, because you're going to get bit, pinched, we don't want to have any blood on you. It's going to be a nasty ride,'" recalled Bomstad.
The driver confirmed to the Fox 9 Investigators that's what he told Bomstad.
He declined an on-camera interview or to provide further details of what happened.
In medical records, he's quoted as saying he had to pull over several times because Wittman ripped off all the safety buckles.
A ride that would typically take about 45 minutes actually lasted closer to two hours.
"So, you've put somebody who is vulnerable and at risk in a situation in which she's at even greater risk. That to me is really unconscionable, that never should have happened," said Dr. Nancy Fitzsimons, a professor of social work at Minnesota State University - Mankato.
SHOCKING TO EXPERTS WHO STUDY MALTREATMENT
Dr. Fitzsimons says Wittman's story could show a deeper problem.
“Oh my God, there’s a lot of red flags here,” she said.
It raises serious questions about how the state of Minnesota is investigating cases of suspected neglect.
She was stunned to hear the state health department decided not to do an on-site investigation of the Wittman case.
"If this is supposed to be our protection system, then it should actually protect people and this clearly didn't protect this woman," said Fitzsimons.
No state regulator has met face-to-face with hospital staff to question why they did what they did or interviewed the driver and tried to confirm the accuracy of his story.
"At this point, I think they've gotten worse than they've ever been,” said Mark Kosieradzki, an attorney who specializes in elder abuse cases. "I think they've lost sight that these are human beings."
He's wasn’t surprised to hear that state investigators passed on the Wittman case.
"They claim they're understaffed. But if we hand them the evidence, they still don't want to investigate or reopen a claim. What it tells me is we've got a culture there that just really doesn't care," he said.
HEALTH DEPARTMENT HOPES TO DOUBLE STAFF OF INVESTIGATORS
"First of all, we do care. And we take our job very seriously," said Assistant Health Commissioner Gil Acevedo.
The health department has been deluged with more than 24,000 maltreatment allegations in the past year.
Of those only about ten percent led to an investigation on-site.
"The number ten percent is obviously not the optimal number, that's not where we want to be," said Acevedo. "We're hoping to investigate them faster."
Those cases that do get investigated, are taking on average, about six months to complete. By law, they're supposed to be done in 60 days.
The department hopes to get funding from the legislature to double its current staff of 24 investigators.
They'll continue to triage complaints and limit on-site investigations to cases where "serious harm" occurred.
Wittman's bloody, panic stricken, transport didn't rise to that level.
The health department reviewed the records and determined there were no violations of state or federal regulations.
"You can't do this through telephone calls or reviewing paper documents," said Fitzsimons.
FAMILY NOT ASKING FOR MONEY
CentraCare Health, which operates the St. Cloud Hospital and Koronis Manor Nursing Home declined Fox 9’s request for an interview.
In a statement the company said: "We are deeply troubled by what unfolded after the patient left our care. We immediately reviewed the situation with staff, the patient's family and the company that transferred the patient. We apologized to the patient's family as this experience is not acceptable."
"I'm not asking for anything monetary," Bomstad said.
The hospital did acknowledge in its written apology to Bomstad that a second person could've been provided to care for her mother during the ride.
But Bomstad wants more than a piece of paper.
She wants to meet in person with the staffers who handled her mom's release from the hospital.
"I wanted them to say that they were sorry and just acknowledge to me the mistakes that they made and I wanted to see the horror on their faces when they saw the way my mom looked when she came back," she said.
Without a state investigation, Wittman’s family will never get a full understanding of what happened to their mother.