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Chanticleer Home owners ask state to reconsider shutdown; Sunshine Villa under investigation

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Jondi Gumz
May 11, 2010

SANTA CRUZ -- Owners of the beleaguered Chanticleer Home are asking the state Department of Social Services to reconsider its order to close the residential care facility for the elderly.

The petition, filed Friday by attorney James Geary of Hanson Bridgett in Sacramento on behalf of the home's owners, asks the state to reconsider the revocation of the license to operate the home and the administrator certificate held by Martha Tufo, who has run the facility with her husband Silvio for 22 years. Should those petitions be denied, Geary requests that Friday's shutdown be delayed "until reasonable time is given for a proposed new licensee to be issued a license to operate Chanticleer Home."

At last count, the 48-bed home had 29 residents, many with Alzheimer's and dementia. They are "at great risk for serious injury, including death, if they are relocated at all, let alone prematurely," according to Geary.

"Our folks are reviewing the petition," State Department of Social Services spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez said Monday.

She took issue with an assertion by attorney Anthony Chicotel with the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform that the state cannot force people out Friday because of a law requiring landlords to give tenants 60 days' notice if they have lived there more a year.

"That law does not apply," she said. "We got the order of the administrative law judge agreeing with our findings. There were lots of substantiated complaints."

Administrative law judge David Benjamin revoked the license for Chanticleer Home April 30 after 16 days of hearings.

Geary claims the process was unfair.

"The sole person attending the hearing on behalf of the department was the key accuser against my clients and clearly exhibited unmitigated bias and prejudice against my clients throughout hearing," according to Geary's petition.

The state investigator alleged a dozen violations, and Benjamin confirmed half of them. One man filed a lawsuit seeking damages after his father suffered a foot injury that became infected and required surgery. Yet many more families support Chanticleer Home, saying the Tufos and their staff provide compassionate and competent care.

They organized a protest Saturday on Chanticleer Avenue, carrying picket signs reading "Stop the state abuse" and "Our caregivers are the best." Residents in wheelchairs also participated.

Geary's petition included letters of support from 19 family members and a competitor, Dolores Beam, owner of The Mansion in Santa Cruz.

"This was an incomplete assessment by an overzealous, questionably trained evaluator from the state Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing," wrote Aptos residents Karen and Paul Estess, who worked in health care for 35 years and reviewed all of Chanticleer's citations.

They recommended an independent evaluation with a transparent process that would include Chanticleer families and clients.

"It looks and smells like a witch hunt," wrote Horst Wolf Jr. of Santa Cruz, a veteran health industries consultant whose mother has lived at Chanticleer Home for two-and-one-half years. "I never witnessed anything or heard about anything that would give me cause for concern."

Asked about those allegations, Lizelda Lopez of the state Department of Social Services said, "It's not an individual working in a vacuum. There is a significant level of oversight. We work closely with owners to bring them into compliance. The Tufos failed to do so."

Lyn Hood, a longtime Cabrillo employee serving on the county Emergency Management Council, noted the ripple effect if Chanticleer Home is closed.

"Family members may have to stop working to care for the residents at home, jobs can be lost, homes lost," she wrote.

Lopez said the state also is investigating a fatality involving Sunshine Villa, another Santa Cruz residential care facility for the elderly. A 74-year-old woman with dementia who left the grounds was found dead four days later.