The Oakland Tribune had an article about how many nursing homes refuse to carry insurance in an effort to limit their liability and fail to compensate residents who are injured or die as a result of their abuse or neglect.  The article discusses the case of Grover Brown.  Brown was 37 years old who developed pressure sores soon after arriving at the High Street Care Center in East Oakland.  One of the sores never healed properly. But once the wound did begin to fester, he wasn’t moved, washed, monitored or medicated with antiseptic.  The wound got worse,  Surgeons had removed his tailbone because the wound had festered without treatment.  Even as the sore turned green and smelled foul indicating infection, the nurse in charge at the time told an aide that was the way "it was supposed to smell," according to Department of Public Health records.  The infection ate away at the bone through to the marrow despite repeated treatment orders from physicians to the staff of High Street Care Center.

Brown is suing High Street Care Center, which had a long list of citations from the Department of Public Health — 164 between 2004 and 2008. The facility was owned until December 2008 by Trinity Health Systems, whose president, Randal Kleis, has operated about a dozen facilities across the state under several corporate names.  But Brown likely won’t see more than a token settlement from High Street Care Center because skilled-nursing facilities, nursing homes and assisted-living care facilities — charged with caring for the most vulnerable — are not required to carry liability insurance.   And Kleis’ other assets are untouchable because they were legally registered as separate corporate entities — a common way operators shield themselves and their profits, said Kathryn Stebner, a lawyer who has been representing victims of nursing home abuse since 1987.   

The state Attorney General’s Office, which is California’s ultimate watchdog, has gone after fewer than a dozen problem nursing homes for elder abuse and neglect since 2000.  That leaves private attorneys to pursue the operators — almost always after the damage has been done.

Medi-Cal began reimbursing facilities for the cost of liability insurance in late 2004 with the expectation that care would improve. But the decision whether to carry insurance was left to nursing-home owners. There was nothing to mandate the improvement.

The incident was not an isolated mistake. Brown’s lack of care was the consequence of an indifference to the health and safety of residents at the facility.  High Street Care Center had a record of poor care, according to records from the Department of Public Health:

On Dec. 7, 2004, an 82-year-old woman at High Street Care Center was suffering from a bed sore that had penetrated through her tendons and muscles to the bone. She was taken to a hospital, where doctors found she weighed 65 pounds and described her as "extremely emaciated." She went to a new nursing home and immediately began gaining weight.

In January 2005, inspectors discovered that the supervisor of dietary services was not certified.

Just two months after being admitted in March 2005, a 54-year-old breast cancer patient who had trouble swallowing lost 23 percent of her body weight. She dropped from 117 pounds to 90 pounds by May 2, 2005. But staff told her family she was gaining weight.

In December 2005, inspectors described finding a cockroach crawling around the base of trash cans full of dirty diapers in one of the rooms. A resident told inspectors that they were crawling around "all the time."

In 2006, a 59-year-old woman told staff at the Center for Elder Independence, a community day care program for elders she attended for treatment, that a certified nursing aide at High Street Care Center had used a washcloth to cover the woman’s nose and mouth. When she cried out in pain for fear of being smothered, the aide hit her on the side of the head. A social worker alerted to the alleged abuse by High Street Care Center staff, also had reported the incident to the Public Health Department. The facility’s administrator told inspectors that although the aide denied the allegations, he fired the aide and "believed something had happened to the resident."

Kleis has settled at least two previous wrongful-death lawsuits in the past six years, court records show. In each case, Kleis asserted he was losing money and could not afford insurance.

The MacArthur Care Center, run by Kleis under the company name Trinity Health Systems, had an extensive record of problems and lawsuits. The Department of Public Health cited the facility for 79 deficiencies between 2004 and 2009.

AARP spokesman Mark Beach said every responsible business should have liability insurance especially those like nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities that take care of the most vulnerable and dependent people. It fosters accountability and ensures people are compensated when something happens even if an owner declares bankruptcy, he said.

Having insurance, he added, "is the right thing to do."


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