March 19, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
In 2010 an extraordinary class action lawsuit went to trial in Eureka, California. It was against Skilled Health Care Group, one of the nation’s largest providers of nursing care to the elderly.
Their facilities were places you would not want mom or dad to be, as a jury found after an incredibly long 7 month trial, handing down a $677 million verdict based on 1.4 million violations of law at $500 per violation per day per patient over six years.
What the jury found is this important to family members who need a long-term nursing facility for mom or dad. We spoke with Eureka attorney, Michael Crowley, from the Janssen Malloy law firm, who was one of the lead trial counsel in this case where corporate greed led to a frightening abuse of America’s defenseless elderly
“The jury was appalled when they heard the evidence of intentional under staffing at their facilities — while billing as if they had adequate numbers of employees to care for residents who needed skilled nursing care. What results from a lack of adequate personnel is simply tragic,” Crowley told You and the Law, adding:
“And this is something that your readers need to be aware of and look for the tell-tale evidence that it is a problem at a facility they might be considering for their family members.” Crowley outlined what their lawsuit uncovered:
Residents were not turned or changed and soaked in their own waste, all night.
Hundreds were over-medicated, left in their own beds without social interaction.
Many were fed food they could not chew or swallow, becoming severely dehydrated and suffering from malnutrition.
Residents needing two staff members to help them move, were often assisted by one, leading to a fall, a broken hip and the death sentence this often means for the elderly.
What do you pay attention to?
We asked Crowley, “When looking for a long-term assisted or skilled nursing facility for mom or dad, what should I pay attention to? How can I know if this a place that is decent?”
“Dennis,” he replied, “Testimony from one witness is instructive and provided valuable guideline. When asked, ‘What were your first impressions — of your sight, smell, and hearing — when you walked into the nursing home to see your dad?’ ”
“The first thing was the smell, the horrible stench of feces,” she replied. “There were so many people who had dirty diapers that were not changed. I would see people with catheters, with a urine bag, and the bag was dragging on the floor, a urinary tract infection waiting to happen.”
Next, Crowley the asked the witness to walk the jury through what she saw in the facility.
“There were so many people in wheelchairs, clustered together, their heads hanging on their shoulders drooling, left there for hours. No one was attending to them. I saw people left in their beds for hours, not gotten up.”
Then Crowley described how this impacted the witness:
“Crying, she told us how she found her father, wet from urine and he had defecated on himself. Trying to get help took over an hour after pressing the call button in his room.”
“When you visit a facility, do not be impressed by lovely gardens or a beautiful lobby. Instead, walk around. Go inside — we found that time and time again the rooms were tiny and not clean.
“What does it smell like? Is there a disguising smell? Does it smell like urine, like poop?” If so, ask, ‘Do you have enough people to make sure that the residents here are being changed, cleaned and washed regularly and properly? Are your residents getting enough showers?
“Walk down the hallways. Do you see a lot of people, their heads resting on their shoulders, unsupported in a wheelchair with no one caring for them, and no apparent activities? Are residents in beds most of the day, not gotten up? Ask about their use of medications to sedate residents.
“Did you see a nurse? How many CNA’s are there? If you need a Geiger-counter to find a nurse or a CNA, this should tell you that there is something not right about the place.”
As medicine continues to prolong our lives into the lost words of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the need for skilled nursing facilities will increase, and adult children will need every bit of help possible in selecting the right ones.
“Ask for references. Ask your family doctor, your parent’s doctors and be involved in their care,” Crowley concludes.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.