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2 charged with elder abuse over abandoned Castro Valley care home
The owner and the administrator of a Castro Valley assisted-living facility where 14 sick and elderly residents were abandoned in 2013 were each charged Monday with 14 felony counts of elder abuse — allegations that could send them to prison, state prosecutors said.
The charges filed in Alameda County Superior Court against Herminigilda Manuel, who owned the failed Valley Springs Manor, and administrator Edgar Babael mark the latest fallout in a case that shocked the Bay Area and spurred lawmakers to tighten California’s oversight of residential care homes.
Manuel, 58, and Babael, whose age was not given, are accused of walking out of the home on Apricot Way on Oct. 24, 2013, after the state ordered it closed. Paramedics called to the home two days later found the notice on the door from the Department of Social Services. Inside they found needy residents, many of them bedridden, attended by a few volunteer staff members.
“The majority of the staff left and the majority of the patients remained,” sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Nelson said after the residents were taken by ambulance to other centers in the county. The staffers who stayed, including a cook and a janitor, “stayed because they felt bad for the patients,” Nelson said. “They weren’t getting paid or anything.”
The cook, Maurice Rowland, had been hired three months earlier. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I couldn’t just leave them there,” he told The Chronicle. “We had built a friendship. So I did the best I could.”
Manuel was arrested Monday at San Francisco International Airport, Nelson said, while Babael was being sought on a warrant. Efforts to reach representatives for the defendants were unsuccessful.
Manuel has long run afoul of regulators. However, though she was forced to sell nursing homes in Castro Valley and Milpitas in 1999 — inspectors found she had slashed staff to dangerous levels and left patients bound to beds — the state licensed her to operate Valley Springs in 2008. And she opened two more assisted living centers in Oakland and Modesto.
By 2013, though, firefighters and paramedics were regularly called to Valley Springs. The license revocation complaint, filed by the Department of Social Services, detailed dozens of alleged violations since 2008, including a general lack of training among staff and a failure by the licensees to check the criminal records of employees.
After Valley Springs was ordered to close, officials worked with elder-care agencies to find new housing for the residents, according to a state report. On Oct. 25, 2013, officials made a “judgment call” that the home could stay open for several days to allow other residents to be moved, the report said.
“That judgment was in error,” the report concluded. State employees should have taken over “to address the developing crisis.”
Pat McGinnis, who directs California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said Monday she was pleased by the charges, which she hopes will set a standard for future abuse cases. “What these folks did is inexcusable,” she said. “And for them to be profiting from it is just disgusting.”
If convicted, Manuel and Babael face up to 17 years in prison and fines of up to $6,000 per count. The charges were the result of a joint investigation by the state Department of Justice, the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse and the sheriff’s office.
Kale Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sfkale