Police investigating death of disabled man burned from bath

Posted at 4:55 AM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 06:55:32-04

BOISE, Idaho — Boise police are investigating the death of a disabled man who died of severe burns after he was put in a bathtub of hot water.

Benjamin Reed's longtime friend and housemate Joe Ribich told the Idaho Statesman that Reed had a neurological disease and was under the care of a home care aide when the burns occurred. The 38-year-old was in the hospital for 11 days — much of that time at a burn unit in Salt Lake City — before he died of his injuries on May 27, Ribich said.

"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.

Boise Police Department spokeswoman Haley Williams said the police have been investigating the death of a vulnerable adult since the adult was taken to the hospital, though she did not name the victim.

"The victim is a vulnerable adult with physical impairments," Williams said, and no charges had been filed as of Monday.

Ribich confirmed police were investigating Reed's death. He said the two had been friends for 21 years and shared a house for seven years. Ribich cared for Reed until he took a job outside the home. That's when a local Boise-based agency, A Caring Hand, was hired to care for Reed, who couldn't walk unassisted because he had Huntington's disease.

Ribich said he was at work when the care worker took Reed for a bath, reportedly placing him in the bathtub, turning on the faucet and then leaving the room for a time. Ribich told the newspaper that the worker apparently went back into the room and removed Reed from the bath before calling Ribich and asking "what he should do" about the situation.

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 said the care worker didn't perform first aid or call emergency services.

Reed was flown by air ambulance to a burn unit in Salt Lake City, where he was treated for third-degree burns up to his shoulder blades, Ribich said.

Ribich said the men deliberately kept their water heater set at a higher-than-recommended temperature, but he couldn't understand how Reed was so badly injured.

"I've bathed him (up to) five times a day for four years. How does this happen? How?" he said. "You check the water and don't put him in if it's too hot."

Jennifer Flowers, an administrator for A Caring Hand, said the agency is conducting an internal investigation and described it as "a tragic accident." She declined to comment further.

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, home health and personal care aides do not need a license or formal education in health care, though they must have some training and certification and pass a criminal background check if they work for an agency that takes Medicaid or Medicare. Their jobs are among the lowest paid in the Boise area, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with workers averaging around $11 an hour.