AUGUST 17, 1998 VOLUME 6, NUMBER 7
A nursing home in the Sacramento, California, area is the latest to be targeted for abuse and neglect of its elderly residents. Ironically, the new reports of mistreatment come on the heels of a federal government study which pointed to severe shortcomings in the regulation of California nursing homes.
The new allegations surfaced in a lawsuit filed two weeks ago against Fountainview Healthcare Center. Family members of four former Fountainview residents filed suit against the corporate owner of the home alleging severe abuse and neglect.
According to the lawsuit, Maria Cervantes was 77 when she arrived at Fountainview two years ago. Six months ago she developed leg and arm deformities from being constantly strapped into her bed. During a visit on one occasion, her son reported that her legs were tangled in the bed rails and covered in blood. He dialed 911 and paramedics took her to a hospital. She was badly dehydrated, and had lost a quarter of her body weight. Her son claimed that the gold fillings in her teeth had even been stolen.
Jewell Mackey was 89 when she arrived at Fountainview in 1995. Last year, while trying to transfer her from her bed into a wheelchair, facility employees dropped her on the floor. She did not arrive at the hospital for her treatment of her seriously fractured legs for six hours. Her niece, Yvonne Duarte, who had been appointed her guardian, was not advised of the injury or the hospitalization, and discovered the incident only after asking questions during a visit several weeks later. By that time, Mackey was also severely dehydrated and covered with open bedsores.
Mary Nickelson, 71 at the time, arrived at Fountainview last year. She had fallen at home, and was sent to the nursing home for physical therapy and treatment of an infected shoulder wound, received during that fall. At Fountainview, according to her husband, she was forced to lie in bed in her own urine and feces, and she developed an infected bedsore. Her calls for help were ignored. She was removed from Fountainview after only a few weeks.
Marilyn Reynolds, the youngest of the women at 69, died at Fountainview after a four-month stay. She was left in bed for extended time periods, according to the lawsuit, without being turned or helped to the bathroom. She had trouble eating, but did not receive assistance. When her husband noticed that she was having trouble breathing, a chest X-ray was scheduled for three days later; Reynolds died before the procedure could be completed.
Fountainview’s owner, Sun Healthcare Group of Albuquerque, New Mexico, owns a chain of nursing homes across the country. The corporation purchased Fountainview and five other Sacramento-area nursing homes last year. California state regulators had already singled out Fountainview as one of a number of California nursing homes in need of “focused enforcement” by the regulatory agency. Two other California nursing homes owned by Sun Healthcare are also on that list.
As it happens, the General Accounting Office of the U. S. Congress had issued a study of California nursing homes just last month. The study, requested by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, criticized both state regulators and the federal Health Care Financing Administration for failing to force nursing homes to correct their problems. The study noted that about one in three California nursing homes had been cited for serious or potentially life-threatening problems, but that most had been permitted to correct discrepancies without penalty.
The GAO also reported that nursing home operators frequently knew about upcoming site visits by regulators, and that few visits were made on weekends or at night. In the case of Fountainview Healthcare Center, about $30,000 in fines has been levied in the past 15 months; not even one dollar has been collected.