Colorado woman, 97, freezes to death outside nursing home, lawsuit says

The family of a 97-year-old woman who was found dead outside a Colorado nursing home claims the woman froze to death after she was locked outside the facility for five hours last year, according to a lawsuit.

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Mary Jo Staub was found dead outside Balfour at Lavendar Farms, a senior assisted living facility located in the southwestern Boulder County town of Louisville, on Feb. 26, 2022, The Daily Camera of Boulder reported.

While no criminal charges were filed, Staub’s family on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court, according to the newspaper. The suit names Balfour, Balfour CEO Michael Schonbrun and the two Lavender Farms employees on duty that night, Aracelli Hernandez and Heidi Arreola, as defendants.

According to the lawsuit and an investigation conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which regulates nursing homes, it was 15 degrees outside when Strub walked out of the building in the middle of the night. She was wearing a nightgown, robe, boots and gloves, The Denver Post reported.

The door locked behind Staub, who used her walker on the sidewalk until she encountered a 5-foot snowbank, according to the newspaper. She allegedly abandoned the walker, climbed over the snow and crawled 75 feet to a pair of doors adjacent to a nurses’ station.

However, no one in the building saw Staub outside, and the woman froze to death, the lawsuit alleges. She was found at 5:51 a.m. local time, the Daily Camera reported.

Staff members called 911 and Staub was taken to an area hospital where she was pronounced dead, CPR News reported.

“Balfour wholly failed to provide Mary Jo the requisite services needed to keep her safe,” the lawsuit alleges. “Not a single Balfour employee noticed Mary Jo was locked out of the facility. Not a single Balfour employee was present to help Mary Jo in any way.”

The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount in damages, the Post reported.

According to the Daily Camera, Arreola said she checked in Staub at midnight, but the lawsuit states that surveillance footage shows her leaving the facility at 11:57 p.m. and returning at 1:04 a.m.

The Post reported that the Department of Public Health and Environment determined that Balfour failed to take appropriate action in Staub’s case and jeopardized the safety of the facility’s residents, according to an investigative report in the agency’s health facilities database.

“This failure created an immediate jeopardy risk of injury or death to all 53 current residents residing in the residence,” the report stated, according to the newspaper.

Michelle Sepples, Balfour’s executive director, told the Post she was not authorized to comment on the lawsuit or Staub’s death.

Staub’s family also declined comment due to the pending litigation.

Their attorney, Elizabeth Hart, wrote on the family’s behalf in a statement to the newspaper.

“Mary Jo was deeply loved. Her life was tragically cut short,” Hart wrote, according to the Post. “Assisted living facilities are supposed to provide protective oversight for our elderly loved ones. The Staub family wants to ensure this doesn’t happen to any other member of this vulnerable population.”

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