"Laguna Hills nursing home faces second negligence lawsuit"
The Orange County Register
Owner of Villa Valencia Health Care Center was just ordered to pay $2 million in damages for a previous claim.
By RACHANEE SRISAVASDI and COURTNEY PERKES
The Orange County Register
The owner of a Laguna Hills nursing home, recently ordered to pay $2 million in damages after the death of a patient, now faces a second lawsuit that alleges inadequate care of another elderly woman.
The family of Therese Sperry, who was 91 years old when she died in July 2007, is suing Virginia–based Sunrise Senior Living, which owns Villa Valencia Health Care Center.
Sperry, of Laguna Hills, spent two weeks in Villa Valencia’s skilled nursing unit in January 2007, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Orange County Superior Court. She developed pressure ulcers on her feet during her stay that went untreated, according to the claim.
The lawsuit alleges negligence by Sunrise Senior Living and says the nursing home failed to provide adequate medical staff for ailing residents – despite five health and safety citations in the last decade by state health regulators. None were tied to the death of a patient, which is the severest category under state law.
The most recent violations, from last year, include sexual molestation of a patient during a bath and failure to change a patient’s catheter often enough to prevent infection.
Sunrise Senior Living operates 445 centers capable of housing 55,000 residents in the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom – including Villa Valencia in Fullerton and Brighton Gardens in San Juan Capistrano. The company lost about $295 million last year on sales of nearly $1.7 billion, records show.
Sara Krueger, a spokeswoman for Sunrise, said the company has yet to receive the lawsuit and could not comment on it, but said Sunrise takes such allegations seriously.
"Our first priority is the health and safety of our residents and we remain unwavering in our commitment to provide the highest quality of care," she said in a prepared statement.
Sperry suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, the lawsuit says.
After a brief hospital stay, she was sent to Villa Valencia for a week to gain strength and receive treatment for a blister on her leg. The suit alleges that four days after her admission, she had redness on both heels, which later developed into ulcers. The ulcers on her feet worsened.
Sperry’s family had her transferred to a different nursing home, where she was treated for wounds on one foot that had spread to the muscle and bone as a result of the ulcer. The suit says she endured debilitating pain until her death.
The suit argues that the facility "carried out a scheme to place ’profits over people’ … (and) intentionally underfunded and understaffed the facility in order to decrease expenses and increase profits."
Such understaffing allegations arose in the trial over the death of Mary Kathleen Adams, who also developed pressure ulcers while at the center in February 2005. She died two months later. In May, a jury ordered Sunrise to pay $2 million to Adams’ family for negligence and punitive damages.
"Big corporations like Sunrise cut down on costs and staffing at the expense of patients," said Kim Valentine, one of the lawyers representing the Sperry family, and who also represented Adams.
Valentine also said court testimony showed employees were quitting because of the poor quality of care – a finding reflected in a report by the independent California Nursing Home Search. The agency found that nursing staff turnover at Villa Valencia was 82 percent in 2006, much higher than the state average of 67 percent.
Staffing ratios meet regulations
Krueger, Sunrise’s spokeswoman, said the company’s staffing models and services meet all state regulations, and in many centers, exceed the mandated staffing ratios. Staffing is determined partially based on the number of residents in each center as well as their individual needs, she added.
In California, he most recent state data on staffing levels at Sunrise – from 2006 – indicates that the nursing home exceeds state requirements of 3.2 hours of nursing care per resident, per day. The data reported to the state by Sunrise indicates five hours per day versus the state average of 3.9 hours.
But Michael Connors of the nonprofit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform said such self–reported data isn’t always accurate. Additionally, he said nursing homes that have sicker patients need even more staffing.
Unlike most California nursing homes, Sunrise only accepts Medicare patients, who typically have more serious medical conditions and require more care.
"They could very well be understaffed even if their staffing levels look better than average on paper," Connors said. "Needs are different. It could be that a particular nursing home needs quite a bit more staff than the minimum."
Connors’ group is pushing for legislation to require quarterly reports from nursing homes on staffing levels.
He said not every nursing home complies with the minimum requirements and said state inspectors have not been enforcing staffing requirements.
"We haven’t seen it and we don’t believe that it’s going on," Connors said.
Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said the agency has added 201 inspectors in the last two years and enforces the nursing–to–patient ratio. Agency auditors also check skilled nursing facilities at random throughout the year, he added.
The Sperry lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, has been assigned to Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory H. Lewis.