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"Nursing home death a public disgrace"

Petaluma Argus–Courier

Published: Wednesday, Jul 11, 2007

When we first wrote about the ongoing elder abuse at Petaluma’s Pleasant Care Convalescent two years ago, we hoped that state and federal agencies charged with protecting the most vulnerable in our society would take action on the problem before someone died. Unfortunately, conditions at the facility did not improve over the last couple of years and the inevitable tragedy finally occurred on March 12 when a 76–year–old Alzheimers patient died needlessly from a dental infection that could have easily been prevented with very basic dental services.

The victim, who resided at the facility for 19 months, had never been provided with dental care during that period. Never mind that she was guaranteed routine dental service by law, a right enjoyed by each and every inmate in California’s prison system.

The state last week fined Pleasant Care $100,000 for her death – only the fine isn’t likely to ever be paid. That’s because the bankrupt firm, the state’s second–largest nursing home corporation, is busy auctioning off all 30 of its disgracefully managed properties and getting out of the business.

Last month, the state levied an $80,000 fine against Pleasant Care for the death of a 54–year–old man in Norwalk that resulted from negligent care. In 2004, a resident of a Pleasant Care facility in Novato died from an infected bed sore. This pattern of negligence and abuse resulted in the corporation agreeing to pay $1.35 million last year to settle civil lawsuits on behalf of residents and their families.

The continual mistreatment of elderly residents at Pleasant Care’s modern–day dungeons may or may not continue, depending upon whether federal and state agencies decide to begin doing their jobs.

But there appears to be little hope for change unless and until the status quo is challenged. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, federal officials impose only minimal penalties against nursing homes that repeatedly mistreat their patients.

On the state level, the situation is not much better. According to a recent article in the La Canada Valley Sun, a spokesperson for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform states that despite a decade of lawsuits, settlements, and citations, Pleasant Care officials never cleaned up their act.

CANHR’s Pat McGuiness says she is very worried about residents at the chain’s facilities since whoever buys them will be dealing with a culture of neglect that will continue until state and federal officials decide to get tough.

With more Americans living longer, and more families turning to nursing homes to provide the elderly with needed care, we have a right to expect better care for the elderly than the kind dished out by Pleasant Care CEO Emmanuel Bernabe.

Heightened enforcement at both the state and federal level is needed to thwart elder abuse in long–term care facilities. We ask anyone outraged by this public disgrace to contact Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, State Senator Carol Migden and Assembly–man Jared Huffman and demand that they put an end to institutionalized elder abuse in California.

Copyright © 2007 Petaluma Argus–Courier