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Family of woman who lit herself on fire sues California’s largest nursing home owner

Original source:

Pasadena Star-News
Zen Vuong

SOUTH PASADENA >> The family of a 57-year-old convalescent hospital patient who died after lighting herself on fire has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against California’s largest nursing home owner.

Jody Moore, attorney for the estate of Courtney Cargill and her three siblings, said nursing home magnate Shlomo Rechnitz, Brius Management Co. Inc. and its subsidiaries need to be held accountable for their actions. Courtney Cargill suffered from mental illness, including schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts.

“The egregious conduct was that they were admitting residents with behavioral health needs knowing they could not care for them, and that was a conscious choice because it was profitable to do so,” Moore said. “This operator controls so many beds in the state of California that the family wants to make sure he can’t operate all these homes without impunity. If there’s a message, it is accountability for Courtney’s death with the hope that other residents will get the care that they need.”

The lawsuit, filed last Wednesday, alleges dependent adult abuse and neglect and violation of residents’ rights by “maximizing profits from the operation of the facility by underfunding, understaffing and undertraining the staff” with “callous indifference to the potential for injury they were inflicting upon the resident population,” according to court documents. South Pasadena Convalescent Hospital, a named defendant, is under new ownership and is now called the South Pasadena Care Center.

Sallie Hofmeister, Rechnitz’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on pending litigation but said “there is a lot of misleading and inaccurate information out there.”

Rechnitz controls one in 14 skilled nursing beds across the state and owns 81 facilities in California, according to court records, which also indicates the nursing home magnate has yet to retain an attorney for this lawsuit.

Notably, a class action lawsuit against Rechnitz was filed in October 2014 — a month before Cargill died due to self-immolation. It alleged fraud, unfair business practices and violation of resident rights by misrepresenting the quality of services and care provided.

In the Cargill lawsuit filed last week, the family allege staff at South Pasadena Convalescent Hospital failed to provide needed mental or behavioral services and falsified or omitted information to conceal misconduct. Staff observed Courtney Cargill “having hallucinations, hearing voices and talking to herself” in early October, but 12 days later requested and obtained an unsupervised pass for Cargill to leave the nursing home for up to four hours a day, according to court documents.

“There is no evidence that Courtney’s physician made a determination that Courtney was capable of safely being on an independent, unsupervised pass, as required by the facility’s policy,” the lawsuit states. “Instead of providing mental health services, defendants took money from Courtney to house her in a ‘room and board’ fashion, content to let her smoke cigarettes and watch TV all day.” Advertisement

The California Department of Public Health issued a citation and a $20,000 fine to South Pasadena Convalescent Hospital based on what happened to Courtney Cargill, according to court documents. The agency’s investigators also found that seven out of 18 residents with mental illness were granted unsupervised “out on pass” rights even though attending physicians did not examine these patients beforehand to determine the safety of these freedoms, according to court documents.

(This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct the new name of the South Pasadena Convalescent Hospital. It is now called the South Pasadena Care Center.)

Also see: "Photos: South Pasadena Police press conference on new developments at SoPas Convalescent Hospital"

South Pasadena Police Chief Arthur Miller announced a significant development in the operations of the South Pasadena Care Center, formerly known as the South Pasadena Convalescent Hospital, at a press conference Wednesday, August 19th, 2015.

The facility was recently sold after losing government certification while a pending investigation into the death of former patient. The facility is one of several owned by Shlomo Rechnitz, who controls 1 in 14 skilled nursing beds across the state and 81 facilities. Several of Rechnitz’s locations have been at the center of controversy and investigation for mistreatment of patients. The South Pasadena location gained national attention after former patient, Courtney Cargill, left the facility unsupervised and lit herself on fire at a nearby gas station.