Boise man died of burns after a home health aide left him in hot bath, friend says

Boise police are investigating the death of a disabled Boise man who suffered severe burns after being put in a bathtub of hot water, dying of his injuries 11 days later.

Reed’s longtime friend and housemate told the Idaho Statesman that a worker from a local home-care agency was taking care of Reed when it happened.

“I’ve bathed him (up to) five times a day for four years,” said the friend, Joe Ribich. “How does this happen? How?”

Benjamin Reed had once been able to walk and care for himself, but he lost that ability due to a neurological disease.

He was 38.

What happened to Benjamin Reed?

The Boise Police Department confirmed that Reed was hospitalized May 16 after being put in hot water and was transported to a burn unit at hospital in Salt Lake City, where he died May 27.

“I kept him alive for a week and had him brought out of a coma (to tell him that) he’s too broken, and they can’t fix him,” Ribich said.

“The victim is a vulnerable adult with physical impairments,” BPD spokeswoman Haley Williams said, adding that Boise police “have been investigating since the victim was taken to the hospital.”

No charges were filed as of Monday, Williams said. She did not name the victim, but Ribich confirmed it was Reed.

The men had been friends for 21 years and shared a house the past seven, Ribich said.

But recently, Ribich took a job outside the home, so Boise-based agency A Caring Hand was hired to take care of Reed.

Reed couldn’t walk or take care of himself due to Huntington’s disease, Ribich said. Huntington’s is a fatal, incurable genetic disorder that breaks down nerve cells in the brain, according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. It erodes a person’s physical and mental abilities. Symptoms usually appear between ages 30 and 50 and worsen over a 10- to 25-year period.

Ribich said Reed’s disease was at stage four — the next-to-last stage — and he couldn’t walk unassisted.

Ribich said the caregiver who put Reed in the bath had only been there two-and-a-half weeks. He was told the man had about eight months of experience working with people who had disabilities like Reed’s, he said in an interview.

Burned in a hot bath

Ribich was at work when it happened, he said. Another housemate told him later that the care worker had taken Reed upstairs, turned on the bath faucet, then came back downstairs, Ribich said.

At some point, the worker went back upstairs and moved Reed from the bathtub to his bedroom. He told the other housemate that something was wrong and “asked him what he should do” about the situation, Ribich said.

The housemate suggested calling 911, he said.

Instead, the worker called Ribich, as well as Reed’s mother, Ribich said. On the other end of the line, Ribich could hear Reed crying, he said.

“All I could hear is him crying. I could hear him screaming,” Ribich said. “The only time I heard him crying like that was at his sister’s funeral.”

Ribich called 911 and drove home immediately, he said.

“He didn’t do first aid. No first aid. He did not call 911,” Ribich told the Statesman, referring to the care worker. “I did first aid when I got there. ... I had 911 on the phone all the way” home from work, he said.

An ambulance then took Reed to the hospital, where he was loaded onto an air ambulance to Salt Lake City, he said.

He couldn’t see the extent of Reed’s injuries at the time, but Ribich said the man had third-degree burns up to his shoulder blades.

“I just want people to know what happened to Ben so this doesn’t happen again,” Ribich said.

Jennifer Flowers, administrator for A Caring Hand, declined to comment. She told the Statesman that the agency is conducting an internal investigation and described it as “a tragic accident.”

How much training did home health aide have?

There is some state oversight of agencies like A Caring Hand, but they’re not licensed and inspected in the same way nursing homes or hospitals are.

The agencies undergo a state audit shortly after they open, then every two years after that. The audit checks to make sure the agency is complying with certain rules — that a registered nurse is overseeing patient care, for example. And the state investigates complaints filed against an agency or its employees.

The agency has been a Medicaid provider since 2008 and currently has 189 patients on Medicaid, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The department said the agency also takes patients on private insurance.

In Idaho, workers like the one hired to take care of Reed do not need a license or formal education in health care.

They do have to meet some requirements, though, to work for an agency like A Caring Hand that takes Medicaid or Medicare. For example, they must have some training and certification and must pass a criminal background check. A caregiver like Reed’s would have had to pass a written test on bathing, according to the state’s training matrix.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of home health and personal care aides in the Boise area, and their jobs are among the lowest paid, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bureau publishes wages for about 450 jobs in Boise. Home health and personal care aides are the 26th and 20th lowest paid — making an average of $11.47 and $10.99 an hour, respectively.

“Employment of home health aides and personal care aides is projected to grow 41 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations,” the bureau says. “As the baby-boom population ages and the elderly population grows, the demand for the services of home health aides and personal care aides will continue to increase.”

Ribich said he couldn’t understand how Reed was so badly injured. The men deliberately set the water to a high temperature, he said. “But you check the water and don’t put him in it if it’s too hot,” he said.

After Reed was transported to Salt Lake City, Ribich got in the car and drove down there, he said. He stayed with his friend for several days, until hospital staff took him off the ventilator, he said.

Now, he wants to know what happened to burn Reed so badly.

“Last night, I went to the top of the stairs, and I started to walk softly because Ben’s room is up there,” he said.

Then he realized he didn’t need to be quiet anymore. Ben was gone.

Editor’s note: A reference to an unrelated business was removed.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

Watchdog reporter Audrey Dutton joined the Statesman in 2011. Before that, she covered finance policy in Washington, D.C., during the financial crisis. She also worked as a reporter in Maryland, Minneapolis and New York. Audrey hails from Twin Falls.
Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.