March 12, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

The day we discover that our parents are no longer able to care for themselves brings with it one of the greatest challenges in our lives as adult children. Now, we have become parents of our parents, at times needing to protect them from themselves; and at all times from a world turned hostile.

Finding a safe place for mom and dad is one of the most frightening concerns which families across our country face every day. How do we find a care facility that delivers on the promises in its glossy brochure?

Just ask attorney Michael Crowley of the Eureka-based Janssen Malloy law firm. In 2010, as one of the lead trial counsels in the most significant class action of its kind in the United States against Skilled Health Care Group, he and his team would place before a jury examples of horror and mistreatment of defenseless elderly which could have come straight out of the Syfy channel — only it was all too real.

A $637 million verdict was returned against this giant corporation by a jury outraged by not just thousands of violations of law, but by the look and smell of someone’s mother, someone’s father, ignored for hours, dehydrated, malnourished and soaking in their own urine and fecal matter.

In a moment, we’ll share Crowley’s recommendations on how to find a good facility, but first, if mom or dad are in a bad one, he explains why it can be a death sentence.

“Their business structure was based on systemic under staffing of facilities and yet billing as if they had adequate numbers of personnel to care for residents. This violated California’s Patient’s Bill of Rights, and similar legislation on a federal level and in other states.

“The company was making millions of dollars of profit this way, the big cash cow being Medicare payment. As Rehabilitation Care brings in the largest dollar amount, they had an interest in making sure the facilities were full of patients with the most needs.

“By definition, the reason these people are in a skilled nursing facility is because they are a vulnerable population. Up to 70 percent cannot communicate effectively due to a stroke, Parkinson or, dementia. They are helpless; some are blind, some deaf, and all rely on the staff for everything.

“When you fill a facility with patients who have the greatest needs and are not delivering adequate care, truly horrible things happen,” Crowley tells You and Law, outlining what the lawsuit uncovered:

Residents were not turned or changed, were left in their own waste, in urine all night, leading to pressure ulcers, and bedsores so bad that infection resulted, sometimes leading to amputations and death.

Overly sedated, left in their own beds, there was no social interaction. Some were given food they could not chew or swallow and chocked. Severe dehydration and malnutrition was common. Many fell, winding up with a broken hip—which is a frequent death sentence for the elderly.

Do your homework

No one should ever think that what Crowley’s lawsuit uncovered with this large corporation was unique “It isn’t,” he is quick to underscore, adding, “This is a problem everywhere, placing a duty on family members to be diligent in their efforts to reduce the chances that mom or dad winds up in one of them.”

So, before signing a contract with an assisted living or skilled nursing care facility, you need to know if they have they been in trouble with the state or Medicare. Crowley explains how to find out:

“A great deal of information is available online, for example, Google DOPNA Orders and read about Medicare denying payment where evidence of neglect and substandard care is found.

“Additionally, you are legally allowed to find and read investigation reports conducted by the Department of Health Services. These reports must be in a binder, open to the public, so, I recommend always asking to see that binder. Also, ask to see their posted staffing schedule. However, as facilities in general do not want the customer to see these reports if they contain negative comments, you will need to be persistent. If they refuse, just leave.”

So, you do all of that and the place comes up clean with no evidence of action by the Feds or Health Department. But it may be far from “clean,” in fact, it could be a family’s nightmare, waiting to happen

We all have a way to determine that—our senses of sight and smell, “Especially smell,” Crowley notes.

What to look at and sniff for, next time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.