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Man sues Valencia care facility in death of 89-year-old mother

Man says he found his mother outside in temperatures above 100 degrees and is accusing Sunrise at Sterling Canyon assisted living of elder abuse and neglect.

June 21, 2012|By Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times

The son of an 89-year-old woman is suing a Valencia assisted-living facility, saying caretakers left the woman alone on an unshaded patio in 100-plus-degree weather last August, resulting in her death.

Ronald Corn was at a Valencia care facility last year for one of his twice-weekly visits with his mother when he found her outside on a concrete patio, alone in the hot August sun, no shade in sight, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Corn brought his mother inside, complained to supervisors and scheduled a meeting with the executive director for the following week. While waiting for that Aug. 24 meeting, Corn said he saw his mother sitting on the same patio alone, this time in temperatures above 100 degrees.

"She was unresponsive, drenched with perspiration and in obvious respiratory distress," the lawsuit said.

Paramedics rushed Loretta Hooker to a local emergency room, where doctors said she arrived in cardiac arrest, according to the lawsuit. They tried to cool her body, but Hooker was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Ed Winter, a spokesman with the Los Angeles County coroner's office, said Hooker died of cardiovascular disease and hyperthermia. Essentially, Winter said, Hooker died because she had a bad heart and was left outside in the heat.

The lawsuit says Hooker's body temperature was 103.3 degrees at the time of her death.

Corn is seeking damages, including medical and funeral expenses, along with "general damages for pain and suffering," from Sunrise at Sterling Canyon assisted living. The suit accuses the facility of elder abuse, neglect and wrongful death, among other items.

Hooker moved to the facility in July 2007 after "mild dementia and generalized weakness and fragility" made everyday tasks difficult, the suit said. As her dementia progressed, she needed more help, prompting Corn to move his mother in early April 2010 to a section of the facility with increased assistance and security designed for residents with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Although Hooker enjoyed spending time outside, the suit said, she needed supervision while doing so. Hooker was also unable to open the doors to the patio herself, even when they were unlocked.

The California Department of Social Services investigated the incident after a "questionable death" complaint was filed against the care facility, records show. The state cited the facility after determining caretakers did not stay with or check on Hooker within 10 minutes as she sat on the patio.

The state inquiry noted that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had also conducted an investigation and believed neglect had occurred but said there was insufficient evidence to "charge anyone with a crime."

A spokesman with the Department of Social Services said the care facility had appealed the state's citations, and the appeals are currently under review.

kate.mather@latimes.com

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