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PHILADELPHIA – The family of a 50-year-old woman who was found dead at a care home for people with developmental disabilities has filed a lawsuit claiming those responsible for her care were reckless and negligent.

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Cheryl Yewdall suffered from cerebral palsy, spastic diplegia, a leg length discrepancy and a foot deformity, and had a diminished mental capacity that prevented her from communicating normally.

Yewdall was found face down on the floor, suffocating on a towel in her throat on Jan. 26, and died five days later. Her cause of death was listed as “anoxic brain injury caused by an obstruction of an internal airway by a foreign object described by the Medical Examiner as a ‘disposable towel.’”

The medical examiner’s office said it was unable to determine the manner of death, and nobody has been arrested or charged as a result of the investigation into Yewdall’s death by the Philadelphia Police Department, The Associated Press reported.

Yewdall v. Merakey by National Content Desk on Scribd

Attorneys for Yewdall’s family pointed to previous issues with her care at Merakey Woodhaven in the lawsuit, saying that on Jan. 9, 2021, she had trouble getting up to use her walker and increasingly indicated pain and difficulty moving, but that staff did not get an X-ray until Jan. 21, at which point the scan showed a broken leg. Three days after Yewdall was released, the examining doctor found that she had not been wearing the leg immobilizer she needed and appeared to be in pain. On Feb. 4, notes indicated the new leg immobilizer arrived on Jan. 26 but was still sitting in its package at the nursing station.

The lawsuit also said that in September 2021 Yewdall “fell back and had a black eye on the right and facial contusions” that required antibiotic treatment.

In a statement to the AP, Merakey Woodhaven denied any responsibility for Yewdall’s death, which it called a “serious and tragic incident.” In the statement, the home said it cooperated with state and local investigations: “She was a valued member of the Merakey community and we were honored to have had her in our care for more than 40 years.”

Merakey provides developmental, behavioral health and educational services at nearly 700 locations across the United States, the AP reported.

In the lawsuit, attorneys point to a recording made by Yewdall’s sister as evidence of problems at the facility. Yewdall had been diagnosed with echolalia, which is the unsolicited repetition of vocalizations by another person. Yewdall’s sister recorded Yewdall saying, “Listen to me (expletive), settle down baby. I’m going to kill you if you don’t settle down, I’m going to kill you (expletive).”

A lawyer for Yewdall’s family told the AP that the clear implication of the recording is that she was repeating what she had heard at the home.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health threatened to terminate the home’s license when a review after Yewdall’s death found the facility had denied emergency treatment to another resident who fractured his hip and failed to safeguard two residents with eating disorders, the AP reported. The state health department lifted the home’s termination notice on Sept. 6, saying it had made “significant progress” in correcting issues at the facility.