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The long road home
Court battles ensued when a 70-year-old woman tried to get back into her nursing home
Toward the end, Dino Banks wasn’t eating. She wouldn’t get out of her wheelchair, and she fell into a depression at the end of her life.
She told a friend she “will not survive all this.”
Indeed, Banks died on July 20. She was 70 years old.
Though Banks died where she wanted to, the Danish Care Center, a full-service nursing home in Atascadero, it took about four months of appeals and court battles to get her there.
Actually, Banks’ court battles are continuing even after her death.
It all started in mid-March, when Banks was admitted to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton. Banks suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as extensive arthritis in her chest cavity. She admitted herself to Twin Cities on March 20 due to complications from her disease.
But it wasn’t her first visit to the hospital. In 2010, Banks’ right leg was amputated just above the knee. Following the surgery, she suffered from “pressure sores” and required extensive assistance, according to court documents. She was confined to a wheelchair most of the time, and needed constant help for everything from getting to the bathroom to taking care of her personal hygiene.
After her surgery, she was transferred to Danish Care Center because it was a place that could provide her the 24-hour assistance she required. And Banks loved the place. She considered it home, a place where she could be near friends and family and somewhere that let her “maintain a high quality of life and sense of personal dignity.”
Medicare.gov rates Danish Care Center with five out of five stars, with no enforcement actions or formal complaints listed in the last three years. The Danish Care Center lobby is bright and cheery, with a thick smell of fruity air freshener and cleanser wafting through a room that echoes with chatter from staff and residents.
But this year, after Banks was admitted to Twin Cities for the second time, Danish Care Center told her she couldn’t come back.
“They evicted her while she was out in the hospital,” said Greg Johnson, a local elder abuse and neglect attorney who took on Banks’ case to get her back into Danish Care Center. “You can’t do that. In California, the law requires that you give a person 30 days notice. You can’t have a sick nursing home resident go to the hospital and then tell them they can’t come home.”
According to a lawsuit filed with San Luis Obispo Superior Court, Danish Care Center told Banks while she was in the hospital that she wouldn’t be allowed to return to the facility. Banks wasn’t given proper notice, the complaint states, and she should have been served with a 30-day eviction notice. Additionally, her bed should have been held for seven days under state law.
Banks appealed to the California Department of Public Health, specifically the Office of Administrative Hearings and Appeals, on the grounds that she was improperly discharged. She won the appeal, and the department ruled Danish Care Center hadn’t given the appropriate notice. Furthermore, the department issued a Class B citation and fine, which is the lowest level out of three citations that can be issued.
Then things broke down. Rather than re-admit Banks, the facility simply issued the proper paperwork. According to their defense in court documents, Danish Care Center believed Banks no longer needed fulltime care—she often left the facility to visit with friends—and additionally she owed $4,000 in back rent.
But Banks wasn’t living by herself in the interim. After leaving Twin Cities, unable to return to Danish Care Center, she was transferred to another nursing facility, but it was in Pasadena, about 220 miles away from her friends and family.
“It’s very horrific, and I really truly believe she would be alive today if all that didn’t happen,” one of Banks’ friends told New Times.
Though both sides agree Banks won the appeal, they don’t agree on whether that meant she had to be returned to Danish Care Center.
Banks filed a lawsuit on April 26, asking the court to order Danish Care Center to take her back. Danish Care Center would argue that Banks didn’t qualify to be readmitted, and if she felt otherwise, the proper course was to appeal after the facility eventually issued the formal written 30-day notice.
“Instead of appealing that, which she had the right to do, which would have clarified all of this—we would have taken her back—they sued,” said Mark Connely, a local attorney representing Danish Care Center.
A representative from Compass Health, which oversees the center, hadn’t returned a request for comment as of press time.
Banks was eventually allowed to return, after spending several months at the Pasadena facility. But she died within days of returning home.
“I’m sad that it took this long,” Johnson said. “I’m sad I’m still working on this, but I’m glad I got her home where she wanted to be when she died. It’s something.”
Even though Banks passed away, her case is still cycling through the courts and scheduled to go to trial in November. Danish Care Center has filed to have the case dismissed, but Banks’ representatives said they’re working to list one of her successors as the main party in the lawsuit.
Johnson took on Banks’ case after he was contacted by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), a nonprofit “long-term care” advocate group based in San Francisco.
“It’s happening again and again and again all over California, and it’s outrageous that the California Department of Public Health will not take any steps to protect these people,” the group’s Executive Director Pat McGinnis said of cases like Banks’.
According to McGinnis, a lack of enforcement has led to increased discharges from nursing homes in the past five years. Though the Department of Public Health will issue citations, most are a slap on the wrist with a $100 fine and no follow up.
“In any other area, if you file an appeal and you win, you get a remedy,” McGinnis said. “Not here.”
CANHR is considering litigation, as well as pushing for a state bill to make the department and attorney general more accountable in enforcing appeal decisions. But the group doesn’t expect to get anything before lawmakers until the next legislative cycle. Without such enforcement, McGinnis said, there are few if any protections to prevent people from being improperly discharged.
“If you didn’t get a ticket for running red lights, imagine what we’d have,” she said.
Contact News Editor Colin Rigley at firstname.lastname@example.org.