Articles Posted in Staffing

file451297827287-1-300x225 Whether you have an elderly loved one who lives in San Diego County or elsewhere in California, it is important to understand how elder abuse laws in our state can help to provide compensation for seniors who suffer injuries as a result of abuse and neglect in the assisted living setting. According to a recent report from the North Coast Journal, a California jury awarded $5 million to the family of an elderly woman who died while under the care of Timber Ridge McKinleyville. The jury, according to the article, “found the facility liable for wrongful death and elder abuse.” Of the $5 million jury verdict, $2.5 million in punitive damages was awarded.

Congratulations to attorneys Tim Needham and Michael Thamer for such outstanding work on behalf of this family.

This jury verdict emphasizes the importance of speaking with an experienced San Diego County nursing home abuse lawyer in the event that an elderly loved one sustains serious or fatal injuries resulting from elder abuse or neglect. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact the Walton Law Firm.

file000356994816Allegations of Elder Neglect and Abuse Resulting in Patient Deaths

According to a recent report from The San Diego Union-Tribune, concerns about elder abuse and preventable injuries in assisted-living facilities in Southern California still loom large. A 2013 special report from The San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted the dangers of nursing home neglect in assisted-living facilities across the state, emphasizing that regulators needed to do more to address serious allegations including but not limited to:

handsIf California nursing home employees go on strike, who will provide care for patients residing in the facilities? Should families of those patients have concerns about nursing home neglect? According to an article in the Marin Independent Journal, sixty nursing home workers went on strike last month in San Rafael following a string of nursing facility violations from government regulators. The strike was aimed at forcing the nursing facility to cease its understaffing practices and to encourage a work environment in which providing a threshold level of care for patients is among the most important logistics of running the facility. Even if such a strike is intended to improve conditions, who cares for patients while employees are on strike?

Understaffing and High Turnover Limits Quality of Care

The recent strike occurred at San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center, which is owned by Brius Healthcare Services. With more than 80 facilities in California, Brius is the largest nursing home chain in our state. For the last 18 months, employees of the nursing home have been working without having a contract. Why are employees working without a contract? About a year and a half ago, those workers rejected the terms of a union-negotiated contracted because it did not do enough to deal with the serious understaffing problem at the facility.

ElderCare-1024x571When does a staffing shortage at a nursing home or assisted-living facility become grounds for an elder neglect case? According to a recent article in the San Francisco Examiner, staffing levels at skilled nursing facilities and other residences for elderly Californians “is an ever-expanding problem.” The need for support services continues to grow in the state, yet the demand doesn’t always fit the need.

To be sure, “individuals 85 years and older, the oldest of the old, are one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.” But, does California have the tools it needs to properly care for these elderly residents?

Rapidly Growing Elderly Population

The nursing home industry (and nursing home lawyers) was stunned earlier this year when a Humboldt County jury returned a class action verdict against the nursing home chain of $677 million dollars. The plaintiffs alleged, and the jury believed, that Skilled Healthcare, the owner of many nursing homes in several states, routinely understaffed its California nursing facilities, compromising patient care in an effort to maximize profits.

The case was a battle. ”Everything was fought tooth and nail,” Timothy Needham, lead trial lawyer for the team of plaintiff lawyers told the Times-Standard. The trial lasted six months. But the verdict was so big it created practical problems for the victors, and potentially fatal concerns for Skilled Healthcare, a publically traded company. Because of the size of the verdict, Skilled Healthcare could not afford to pay such a huge judgment and could not appeal the result (appeals require the posting of a bond, which is a percentage of the verdict), and the plaintiffs really didn’t want to take over the company. So, smartly, everyone agreed on a settlement.

It was announced yesterday that the verdict of $677 million was settled for $62.8 million.

There has been a string of large verdicts against nursing homes for poor care. A few months ago, a Northern California jury returned a verdict of over $600 million against a nursing home chain for deliberately understaffing its homes and putting residents at risk. Two weeks ago an Orange County jury awarded $3.1 million in a case involving a morphine overdose. And last week, a Georgia jury awarded $43 million in a wrongful death lawsuit, believed to be the largest in the state’s history against a nursing home.

In the Georgia case, the surviving family members of 80-year-old Morris Ellison sued after their father died after a stay at the Moran Lake Nursing Home. Mr. Ellison fell numerous times in the home, including one fall that broke his hip. According to reports, the nursing home failed to notify doctors when Mr. Ellison suffered his fracture.

The nursing home was operated by a company called the Forum Group Corp., which was owned by attorney George Houser. Houser represented himself and the nursing home during the trial, and, of course, lost big. But after the verdict, things only got worse for Houser. Immediately after the verdict was rendered, Houser was arrested and taken into custody for contempt of court.

The AP has a story out today about the Skilled Healthcare Group verdict in Northern California, where a Humboldt jury awarded a class of plaintiffs $677 million dollars for what it determined was chronic and deliberate pattern of understaffing at its nursing homes that left elderly residents at risk of harm. The jury found that Skilled Healthcare regularly violated state regulations requiring it to keep a minimum number of nurses on duty at its 22 homes in the state.

One witness in the case recalled visiting her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and frequently finding him lying in urine-soaked sheets. She said it would routinely take up to 20 minutes for someone to respond to a call light.

“The major problem for most nursing homes in California and in the nation is staffing,” Pat McGinnis, executive director and founder of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told the AP.

Johnnie Esco, age 77, was hospitalized because of pneumonia, and her husband of 61 years was at her bedside every day. When she recovered, she was sent to a local nursing home for physical therapy, to help her regain her strength, and then she was headed home, where she wanted to be. That day would never come.

After only two weeks in the nursing home, Johnnie’s health had deteriorated to the point that she needed an emergency transport to the hospital, where she died a short time later. Her family was stunned, and now believes that the nursing home’s failure to provide adequate care caused Johnnie’s death.

“If she had received proper care, she would still be alive today,” Johnnie’s husband Don told KCRA news.

Over the last six years, complaints against Ventura County nursing homes are up almost twentyfold despite a California law that pumped nearly $900 million of Medi-Cal money into nursing homes throughout California. Remarkably, just prior to receiving the additional funds, Ventura County ombudsmen filed only 10 complaints against local nursing facilities, yet over a the period of July 2009 to May 2010 the same ombudsmen filed 194 complaints.

“The numbers show that (the law) did not do what it was supposed to do: increase the quality of care for residents in nursing homes,” Sylvia Taylor Stein, executive director of the Long Term Care Services of Ventura County ombudsman program, told the Ventura County Star. “They were given a checkbook with no oversight.”

By way of example, Oxnard’s Shoreline Care Center received $877,356.00 in additional Medi-Cal funding from 2004 to 2008, but records show that the facility actually provided less nursing hours per patient per day than it did prior to the funding increase. It’s not surprising that the nursing home took in $4.1 million in profits after the law was passed.

Closing arguments began in what is now one of the longest trials in Humboldt County history involving allegations of neglect at 21 nursing homes owned by Skilled Healthcare. Michael Thamer, a lawyer dedicated to defending the rights of nursing home residents, will argue that Skilled Healthcare, because of deliberate decisions to keep nursing home staff at the lowest possible numbers, repeatedly exposed its residents to substandard care, including the failure to regularly bathe its patients, allowing residents to lie in soiled bed sheets for hours, and failing to treat bed sores.

”In my opinion, they (staff members) are set up to fail before they even start,” Thamer told the court.

Under California law, nursing must provide at least 3.2 hours of nursing care per resident, per day. These hourly requirements apply to direct patient care, and must be performed by registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses and certified nursing assistants. According to the plaintiff, Skilled Healthcare totally failed in this regard, and regularly understaffed its facilities for financial gain.