‘Punched, kicked, grabbed, and brushed up towards’—nurse’s husband sues her employer after she was strangled on the job

The husband of a Connecticut visiting nurse who was killed during an appointment with a convicted rapist filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday, alleging her employer repeatedly ignored workers’ safety concerns about treating dangerous patients.

Ronald Grayson sued Elara Caring, its affiliated companies and others over the killing of his wife, Joyce Grayson, a 63-year-old mother of six who was found dead in the basement of a halfway house in Willimantic on Oct. 28. She was strangled and suffered multiple blunt force injuries, authorities said. Elara Caring, based in Dallas, Texas, denies the allegations.

“For years prior to October 28, 2023, employees of Elara Caring affiliates experienced multiple, repeated instances in which they were verbally, physically and sexually harassed, assaulted, attacked, yelled at, chased, threatened, punched, kicked, grabbed and brushed up against by mentally unstable and/or violent patients of Elara Caring,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks undisclosed damages.

Instead of addressing nurses’ concerns, the lawsuit alleges, the company encouraged employees to focus on increasing profitability while nurses were “chastised, shamed and gaslit, led to believe that they were overreacting.” Staff were “required to treat patients who were dangerous, mentally unstable and, frequently, unsuitable for home health care services,” the lawsuit says.

The suit, filed in Middletown Superior Court, also accuses the company of failing to implement a policy allowing escorts or other staff to accompany nurses when they visit potentially dangerous clients.

“Joyce Grayson’s death was entirely preventable and those who failed to protect her from a violent offender should be held accountable,” said Kelly Reardon, a lawyer for Grayson’s family.

Elara Caring called the allegations “unwarranted” in a statement released Monday. The company says it provides home care for more than 60,000 patients in 17 states.

Joyce Grayson had an appointment to administer medication to Michael Reese that morning. Reese, who was on probation after serving 14 years in prison for stabbing and sexually assaulting a woman in 2006 in New Haven, is charged with murder and other crimes in the nurse’s death. His lawyers have not returned messages seeking comment.

Elara repeated previous comments it made saying Connecticut officials determined Reese was not a danger to the community and were responsible for monitoring and managing his activities.

“Elara Caring provided services only after Connecticut’s Department of Correction, Board of Pardons and Parole, and the Judicial branch determined it was safe to put Reese back into the community,” the statement said. “Joyce Grayson was a trusted friend, colleague, and mentor. We remain devastated and angered by her loss.”

The killing spurred a call for greater protections for home health care workers in Connecticut and across the country. Connecticut lawmakers are now considering a bill that would improve safety for health care workers.

Grayson’s family is also asking for permission to sue the state Judicial Branch, which oversees probation, and the Department of Correction for $25 million in connection with their oversight of Reese. The Judicial Branch declined to comment and the Correction Department did not return messages. People who want to sue the state need approval of the claims commissioner’s office and the legislature.

The lawsuit also names The Connection, which runs a community treatment program at the halfway house where Grayson was killed. The provider declined to comment on the lawsuit’s allegations.

“The death of Joyce Grayson was a senseless crime, and The Connection continues to mourn her immeasurable loss,” it said in a statement. “We will let the legal process address the root causes of this tragedy.”

Last week, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed fining Elara Caring about $161,000 after finding the company failed to protect Grayson.

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