Sandra Byrd Peterson was already making plans in mid-January to move her elderly mother from the South Holland assisted-living facility where Dorothy Byrd had lived since August 2013.
“I just didn’t move fast enough,” Peterson said Tuesday.
On Monday, the Cook County medical examiner’s office announced that Byrd’s Feb. 4 death was a homicide. Byrd, 98, died during an “inappropriate administration of medication by medical personnel” at the facility, according to a death certificate provided by the Peterson family’s attorney.
An autopsy at the time was inconclusive, but further testing revealed Byrd died of morphine and hydrocodone toxicity and heart disease.
“It never would have entered my mind that something like this would have happened,” said Peterson, who also lives in South Holland. “This is like something out of a horror story.”
A nightmare too for several other families with relatives at Holland Home in the 16300 block of Louis Avenue. Byrd was one of six residents there who became ill on the morning of Feb. 3, according to the South Holland Fire Department.
One of the other patients, Leon Krynicki, 98, died at Providence Hospice in Tinley Park on March 9, according to the medical examiner’s office. An autopsy the next day was inconclusive. A third patient, 88-year-old Robert Rundin, died at Saint Margaret’s Hospital in Dyer, Indiana, on March 7, according to the Lake County coroner’s office. His manner of death is pending further tests, according to the coroner’s office. Full autopsy results are not expected for four months.
South Holland Police, along with the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, are investigating Byrd’s death. Police also are investigating Rundin’s and Krynicki’s deaths.
Two other patients were taken to Ingalls Memorial Hospital, where Byrd died, and a sixth was taken to Munster Community Hospital in Munster. All three later recovered, according to a statement from David Mills, COO of Villa Healthcare, which operates Holland Home.
“The safety and well-being of the Holland Home residents are of the highest priority,” Mills said in the statement. “We are in the very early stages of investigating the cause of today’s incident.”
Peterson said she moved her dementia-stricken mother to Holland Home after doing extensive research about that facility and many others.
“She moved there because she couldn’t be alone and although we had caregivers . . . we were unable to provide the consistency and constancy of care she needed,” Peterson said. “We could never leave her alone. We were pretty much housebound.”
Byrd, who had been a nurse for almost 40 years, drifted in and out of lucidity in her latter years, Peterson said.
“She had her good days, when she was very clear, very lucid,” Peterson said. “And there were other days when she couldn’t remember what day or year it was.”
Byrd missed being with her daughter, but she kept a cheery attitude, helping to feed other more feeble patients, Peterson said.
Peterson wouldn’t say what prompted her to want to move her mother earlier this year.
Peterson called the planned move “less than urgent, more than mild.”
“That’s an issue that I would prefer to go into at a later date,” said Peterson, who has hired an attorney.
Peterson last saw her mother on Feb. 2. The daughter brought a lemon cake and some cookies and the two chatted at Holland Home about a snowstorm that dropped 21 inches.
“I was showing her pictures on my phone,” Peterson said. “She chuckled and said, ‘It looks like someone has a lot of shoveling to do.’ ”
The next say, Peterson got a call from the facility. The nurse said Byrd had been found unresponsive in her room, Peterson said.
Peterson said staff at Holland Home have expressed their sympathy but have no answers about what happened.
Now, Peterson said, she can’t drive by the six-story facility without experiencing pain.
“When I drive by, I look over at that building with a lot of sadness,” Peterson said.