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California Nursing Home Chain Cited and Sued for Elder Abuse

Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that Skilled Healthcare, one of the nation’s top ten for-profit chains, finds itself again under intense scrutiny. Due to recent citations and lawsuits, Skilled Healthcare will be closely monitored by state and federal authorities as it agrees to spend more of its budget on staffing levels and increase quality of care.

California’s Attorney General filed the elder abuse lawsuit against Skilled Healthcare after state inspection reports detailing incidents of malnutrition, dehydration, and overmedication. The company owns 20 facilities (over 2,300 beds) throughout California, most of which in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The agreement allowed state authorities to implement an independent monitor who will ensure the company is fully complying with California’s staffing requirements and conducting ongoing evaluations of quality care levels and staffing sufficiency at all 20 facilities. The independent monitor will make regular reports to submit to the Attorney General and can conduct surprise inspections at any of Skilled’s facilities for the next two years.

At present, California’s elderly population is growing at twice the rate as the general population, so measure of this kind are not only necessary to protect the health and safety of current residents, but future residents as well. This most recent action, as mentioned, was spurred by troubling state inspection reports; specifically, by the 76 citations and 209 deficiencies issued by these inspectors between 2008 and 2012.

In addition to the dehydration, malnutrition and overmedication, the citations and
deficiencies were also issued due to the facility’s failure to prevent bedsores (pressure ulcers) and urinary incontinence, deficient catheter care, and negligent naso-gastric feeding care practices. The lawsuit was investigated and prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA), which has special teams in LA and Sacramento comprised of nursing professionals and lawyers to help combat elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

One Skilled Healthcare nurse in particular, Gwen Hughes, was named at the trial and ultimately charged with manslaughter. She was the former nursing director at the Kern Valley Healthcare District nursing home in Lake Isabella. As a troubling number of nursing director do, Hughes ordered many residents to be administered antipsychotic medication even though they were not prescribed. This practice, known as chemical restraint, is done to sedate residents so nurses do not have to respond to their needs.

Three patients died and several others suffered adverse reactions from the psychotropic drugs. In a gross abuse of power, she used the medications to control any resident she considered unruly or disruptive. Being given these medications caused swift decline in health for at least 22 residents not including those who died. Hughes was sentenced to three years in prison, to which many of the resident’s families reacted with tears of joy.

One of whom was the granddaughter of a resident who died in 2006 after receiving Depakote, a drug used to treat seizures. She was not prescribed to Depakote, and after not eating for six days was rushed to the ER, where she died.

A former nurse at the facility stated that patients who were purposefully overmedicated were so out of it that they couldn’t remember what their names were. The other two residents that passed away due to overmedication were Joseph Shepter and Eddie Dolenc. Shepter was on three different anti-psychotic drugs when he died; Dolenc died just one month after being admitted to Kern Valley, after the anti-psychotic medications caused him to become extremely sedated, unable to eat or drink.

The physician who signed off on Hughes’ orders was sentenced to three years felony probation, and was subject to disciplinary action by the Medical Board of California. He is now prohibited from engaging in the solo practice of medicine and from practicing at all in skilled nursing facilities, convalescent homes, and assisted living facilities.

Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins commend the efforts of the California’s Attorney General, as we too continue to advocate for the rights of senior citizens nationwide. If you or a loved one was seriously injured at a nursing home by the negligence, abuse, or exploitation of another, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation.