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13 nursing homes accused of abuse, fraud in suit

March 17, 2007|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Thirteen nursing homes in Southern California operated by one of the largest elder care providers in the nation were accused this week of elder abuse and fraud in a class-action lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.

The complaint filed Thursday alleges that the skilled-nursing and long-term care centers run by Life Care Centers of America Inc., based in Tennessee, have a long history of substandard care and violations of patients' rights.

Long Beach attorney Stephen Garcia filed the lawsuit on behalf of thousands of California residents who either live in or have lived in the 13 Life Care Centers from 2003 to 2007.

Garcia, who specializes in defending elder abuse patients, said the company frequently violates laws designed to protect some of the state's most vulnerable residents. Those rules are enforced by the California Department of Health Services, which regulates nursing homes.

A spokeswoman for Life Care in Cleveland, Tenn., could not be reached Friday evening.

Garcia said that he hopes the lawsuit will force the court to order an independent monitor to oversee the company's Southern California operations, which he said would lead to better care for elderly residents.

"The Department of Health Services is so understaffed that it can't do its job properly," Garcia said. "These nursing homes are supposed to be examined every 15 months, but sometimes it's two or three years between investigations. So basically these places operate unpoliced even though they're supposed to be policed."

Typically, Garcia said, the company seeks out and recruits "the sickest of the sick who require the most attention" because those patients will bring in higher Medicare payments. But then the company gives these high-needs patients minimum attention by providing insufficient staff, Garcia alleged.

"It results in unnecessary injuries, violations of patients' rights and even death," he said. "It's not an issue of the people on the floor not wanting to do their jobs. It's that there's not enough of them. It's a matter of corporate greed at the corporate level, not at the caregiver level."

The lawsuit names the following nursing homes and the number of "notices of deficiencies" they received from the California Department of Health Services for violations related to substandard care:

* Rimrock Villa Convalescent Hospital in Barstow: 27 from 2004 to 2006

* Bel Tooren Villa Convalescent Hospital in Bellflower: 10 from 2005 to 2006

* Life Care Center of Corona: 19 from 2004 to 2006

* Life Care Center of Escondido: 31 from 2004 to 2006

* Orangegrove Rehabilitation Hospital in Garden Grove: 22 from 2004 to 2006

* Lake Forest Nursing Center: 26 from 2004 to 2006

* La Habra Convalescent Hospital: multiple notices from 2005 to 2006

* Imperial Convalescent Hospital in La Mirada: 17 from 2005 to 2006

* Mirada Hills Rehabilitation and Convalescent Hospital in La Mirada: 41 from 2004 to 2006

* North Walk Villa Convalescent Hospital in Norwalk: 43 from 2004 to 2006

* Life Care Center of San Gabriel: 21 from 2004 to 2006

* Sun City Convalescent Center: 29 from 2004 to 2006

* Life Care Center of Vista: 23 from 2004 to 2006.


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