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Head Nurse Faces Felony Elder Abuse Charges

Nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that he former head nurse of the El Dorado Care Center in California will stand trial this August on charges of felony elder abuse. She is one of two of the facility’s nurses charged in the 2008 death of a resident.

77-year-old Johnnie Esco died five years ago after suffering severe fecal impaction from chronic constipation. Fecal impactions come with an array of symptoms that certified nurses are trained to recognize, symptoms which persist for numerous days before being rendered a medical emergency. Complaints may include constant or spastic lower abdominal pain, nausea, and low-grade fevers. The condition is most common among the physically challenged, institutionalized, and those with chronic constipation – all factors that Esco exhibited.

The other nurse charged in the case, a licensed vocational nurse, negotiated a plea deal in 2012 with California officials. The Deputy Attorney General, Steven Muni, who pursued the case after the El Dorado County district attorney declined to prosecute, argues that both nurses failed to properly perform their duties. He contends that they failed to adequately supervise the Center’s staff in Esco’s care, which resulted in her death.

Esco was admitted to El Dorado Care Center in Placerville only 13 days before her death, after a bout of pneumonia. She and her family expected her to return home with her husband after some rest and recuperation at the skilled nursing center.

The Care Center’s former owner, Horizon West Healthcare, has an illustrious history of licensing and regulatory violations. Esco’s case not only raised questions about the standard level of care in Horizon’s nursing homes, but about the integrity of medical records as well. Esco’s husband, Don, obtained his wife’s medical records after her death and stated that employees had just penciled in what they wanted the records to show, not what actually happened to his wife, stating simply, that they were complete fabrications.

Esco’s lawsuit accuses the facility, its owners and employees, of elder abuse, wrongful death, fraud, and falsifying, altering, and improperly handling his wife’s medical charts. Unfortunately, falsifying or amending patient records is remarkably common in U.S. nursing homes, although it is rarely discovered or punished by authorities. Only with the help of a skilled and experienced senior abuse attorney may this unlawful practice be brought to light, ultimately helping families of deceased loved ones obtain justice.

Horizon West Healthcare settled the first lawsuit in 2010 in a confidential amount, directly after selling its 27 nursing homes to a San Marcos-based chain. Since, El Dorado Care Center’s name has been changed to Western Slope Health Center.

Several staff members of the nursing home stated that resident charting was not always done with care and precision. In a deposition, one admitted that she was often so busy that she did not have time to fill out patient’s charts. Other employees would share similar concerns to supervisors, to no avail. Altering residents’ medical charts masks serious conditions and neglected care, and is an insidious form of senior abuse and neglect.

In the years before her death, Don Esco was his wife’s primary caregiver, and he devised intricate charts to keep track of her medications, some of which caused constipation. If left unmanaged, the condition could lead to fecal impaction, which is life-threatening in the elderly, causing bowel obstruction or ruptured colon and infection.

Upon admittance, Esco’s physician ordered she be checked every shift for constipation and receive milk magnesia daily. Her husband also supplied a detailed list of medications she needed, including a laxative and stool softener. Her chart, however, noted that she had no history of constipation of laxative use. The facility failed to talk to the family and failed to detail her medical history. During the course of the trial the staff had trouble remembering or explaining their own records, many of which were erased and written-over to protect the facility from liability.

Now, Don Esco volunteers at the Foundation Aiding the Elderly, which advocates for senior patient rights nationwide, and earlier this year went to Washington D.C. to lobby for nursing home reform. Elder abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins commend the work done by Esco in his fight to gain justice for his beloved wife and expose the responsible parties for their negligence and abuse. If you or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in a long-term facility due to inadequate care, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your losses.