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"Elderly residents allegedly abused by caretaker"

Original source:

Los Angeles Times

Investigation into Calabasas facility alleges woman, 78, was body–slammed into her bed; a man, 83, was punched in the stomach; and a man, 80, sustained fractured ribs.

By Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 14, 2008

An investigation sparked by a suspicious death at an upscale senior living facility in Calabasas has expanded to include the alleged abuse of three more elderly residents, including a 78–year–old woman who was allegedly body–slammed into her bed, according to court records and interviews.

Keith Stubbs said he was told by authorities that a caregiver at Silverado Senior Living rousted his sleeping mother out of bed by "jumping on her chest." When she tried to defend herself, "he picked her up W.W.F.–style and slammed her onto the bed," Stubbs said, describing a popular move in televised World Wrestling Entertainment matches.

The Stubbs family and two others learned last week that their elderly loved ones were allegedly abused by former Silverado caregiver Cesar Ulloa. Stubbs said his mother suffers from a brain condition that left her unable to speak, "which makes her the perfect victim," he said.

Ulloa was arrested Oct. 2 after a nearly yearlong investigation into the death of 80–year–old Silverado resident Elmore Kittower, whose body was exhumed after an anonymous whistle–blower told authorities Kittower was beaten by a staff member minutes before he died.

An autopsy report released last week revealed that Kittower died of a blood clot in his lung. But the document also cited "blunt force trauma" as a contributing factor in his death. The report noted that Kittower’s body was covered in bruises and had partly healed rib fractures that appeared to have happened within a month of his death.

Ulloa, a 20–year–old Reseda resident, was charged with four counts of elder abuse and one count of torture when he was arraigned last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He pleaded not guilty.

In addition to Kittower and Stubbs, Ulloa is accused of abusing Richard McDonough and Robert Turner, an 83–year–old retired Northrop Grumman employee who has dementia and is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a family member.

McDonough’s family could not be reached for comment.

Turner’s nephew, Richard Skowronek, said authorities didn’t go into detail about what was allegedly done to his uncle, other than that "he was punched in the stomach."

He said he and his wife were "dumbfounded" that such an assault could occur in a "top–notch" facility such as Silverado.

"I feel that in search of the almighty buck, they brought in some folks they didn’t check out real carefully," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Georgia.

Mark Mostow, a spokesman for Silverado, said the company adheres to a "strict and stringent" screening process for potential employees, including criminal–record checks, drug tests and reference checks. He said all employees go through an elder–abuse reporting program conducted by the California Department of Justice.

"We follow what’s required by state law and we go above and beyond that," Mostow said.

He added that Ulloa, who was fired from Silverado last year, charmed the families of many of his patients.

"He had a very friendly and outgoing demeanor that people were attracted to," Mostow said. "They wanted him around."

Keith Stubbs said it was about two years ago, before Ulloa even started working at Silverado, that he and family members first started noticing bruises on his mother’s arms and neck.

When family members asked about the injuries, Stubbs said they were told his mother was clumsy and sometimes combative with other residents of the hillside facility. On one occasion, Stubbs recalled, "they said she fell down and hit a wheelchair with her neck."

Stubbs said he was concerned, but never suspicious. Silverado’s resort–like atmosphere and the seemingly caring, professional demeanor of its staff instilled confidence that his mother was in good hands. That feeling of confidence gave way to one of outrage and betrayal last week when he was told about Ulloa’s alleged assault on his mother.

He said it was devastating to think that his mother may have been abused but was unable to complain because she couldn’t speak.

"You don’t know where she is mentally inside that shell she’s in," said Stubbs, a mortgage banker from Ventura County.

Looking back, he said he should have suspected something was wrong when his mother became withdrawn, recoiling from the touch of even loved ones who entered the room. He said his mother’s change in behavior coincided with the time Ulloa worked at the facility.

"She started to act like a wounded animal," he said. "But when she finally found out who you were, she didn’t want to let you go."

Stubbs and Skowronek said they were considering removing their family members from Silverado despite assurances that steps had been taken to guard against any future abuses.

Sgt. Bill Cotter of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide unit declined to discuss any of the allegations against Ulloa in detail. He did not dispute any of the accounts by family members.

Cotter said investigators are still trying to determine the identity of the whistle–blower in the case. He asked that anyone with information about that person or with information about the alleged assaults call detectives at (323) 890–5500.