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California abuse case: employees targeted rather than facility.

In a possible precedent-setting case, 12 employees at a California nursing home charged with neglect of an elderly resident could be prosecuted under a law that typically applies only to facilities.

The case could mean that anyone can be held responsible for actions in a facility, instead of just the facility or its owners, according to industry officials.

The 12 CNAs and LVNs are charged with elder neglect, falsifying medical records and failure to follow nursing home state regulations and are being prosecuted under the state's Regulation and Licensing of Health Care Facilities law, according to Benjamin Gluck, a defense attorney with Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Drooks & Lincenberg in Los Angeles.

In October 2003, the Bureau of MediCal Fraud and Elder Care Abuse put a hidden camera in the room of Maria Mendoza, a then-80-year-old resident of SunBridge Care & Rehabilitation-East in Escondido, Calif. Six days of monitoring revealed that Mendoza was not receiving all her necessary treatment, including a failure by employees to turn her over at proper times and administer eye drops when needed, according to court records.

Following an indictment from a San Diego County Grand Jury, the 12 employees were arrested in January 2004 on felony and misdemeanor abuse charges. Ten of the 12 were also charged with misdemeanor altering of medical records, according to court documents.

Neither SunBridge Care nor its operator, Sun Healthcare Group, was charged. Sun Healthcare sold the facility to Palomar Heights Care Center LLC in late 2004, said Melissa Tommaso, Sun Healthcare's corporate communications officer.

The felony charges eventually were dropped and other adjustments made. Those include the addition of two misdemeanor counts of violation of Health and Safety Code section 1290, which historically has applied only to facilities, according to Gluck.

The case was finally cleared to go to trial in late April, at which point defense attorneys filed for an emergency review by an appellate court. The case is now frozen pending that review, said Gluck. Officials at the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Care Abuse in Sacramento, Calif., did not return calls for comment.
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Author:Naditz, Alan
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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