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State rebukes nursing home after probe

The health department fines the Norwalk facility, owned by Pleasant Care, $80,000 for its role in the 2005 death of a resident.

June 21, 2007|Mary Engel | Times Staff Writer

The state health department rebuked a Norwalk nursing home Wednesday, levying an $80,000 fine after an investigation found that poor care led to the death of a 54-year-old resident in August 2005.

The citation against Emmanuel Health Care Center is considered the most severe in the state's arsenal. A watchdog group nonetheless criticized the California Department of Health Services for taking almost two years to issue it.

"If somebody died because of neglect, the state should be acting far more swiftly to ensure that the facility took corrective action and to send a message that this kind of treatment won't be tolerated," said Michael Connors of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

The health department reported Wednesday that the male resident, whose name was not released, required total assistance with daily living activities and was at risk for falls. He was found on the floor Aug. 15, 2005, with an injury to his forehead. Nursing home workers did not assess his injury or notify his physician until the next day when he appeared lethargic, the report said. He was transferred to a hospital, where he died two days later of "massive bilateral intracerebral hemorrhage contributory to head trauma."

Emmanuel administrator John Malley declined to comment, saying only that the nursing home's parent company planned to appeal the citation.

The death involving the Norwalk facility was the third that state investigators have attributed to negligent care at nursing homes owned by Pleasant Care Corp., California's second-largest nursing home chain.

The La Canada Flintridge-based firm did not return calls to its corporate office seeking a comment.

In March 2006, Pleasant Care agreed to pay $1.3 million to the state to settle a lawsuit brought by former Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer alleging that the chain, which operated 30 nursing homes in California, provided negligent care to scores of residents. One resident died at a Ukiah nursing home in 2003 and another died at a Novato nursing home in 2004.

Pleasant Care filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March. It had paid $675,000 to the state before filing, said Alan Robinson, the deputy attorney general supervising the case.

The chain closed a nursing home in Napa and announced plans to auction the remaining 29, Robinson said.

"I would hope that all of them would be sold," he said. "You don't want to see a facility closed down. But you don't want somebody operating a facility in such a substandard condition that it endangers the vulnerable residents."

Connors and other advocates for change fear that in the interim, residents of Pleasant Care homes could be in jeopardy because of the firm's financial instability and history of poor care.

Department of Health Services spokesman Michael Bowman said that since the bankruptcy filing, agency investigators have been checking the firm's facilities daily to ensure that patients are receiving proper care.

"We're monitoring it closely," he said.

The department has come under fire in recent years for its oversight of nursing homes.

In 2006, the federal Government Accountability Office accused the state of underreporting nursing home deficiencies compared with most other states. It also found the timing of California's inspections too predictable.

Connors' group and the relatives of two former nursing home residents sued the state in 2005 for failing to initiate investigations into complaints within the 10 working days required by law. They won their suit. But state law does not specify a time frame for completing investigations.

At the group's request, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) is sponsoring a bill that would give the health department 40 working days to complete an investigation.

"In nursing homes, patient care questions are frequently life-and-death questions," Feuer said Wednesday. "There is no room for allowing an investigation to go unresolved for months or for years."

The bill, AB 399, has passed in the Assembly. On Wednesday, the day the health department issued its citation against Emmanuel Health Care Center, the measure received the approval of the Senate health committee.

Feuer is sponsoring a second bill, AB 398, that would create an online rating system for nursing homes.

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mary.engel@latimes.com

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