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Wrongful death suits filed against Eureka nursing homes
Editor’s note: This article contains graphic descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.
A Eureka law firm has filed two wrongful death complaints against two Eureka nursing homes alleging that neglect and a lack of nursing staff led to the deaths of two patients in 2016.
Janssen Malloy LLP attorney W. Timothy Needham is representing the families of the two deceased patients Ralph Sorensen and Randy Kruger. He said both men died after developing severe pressure ulcers that became infected while they were patients at the Eureka and Seaview rehabilitation and wellness centers.
“Although our investigation is not yet complete, it appears to us from our investigation to date that these facilities are being consciously understaffed,” Needham said.
Needham said pressure ulcers are entirely avoidable and can form when patients are not moved regularly by nursing stuff. Wheelchair- or bed-bound patients can have circulation cut at pressure points if they are not moved, causing underlying tissue to become damaged and form an ulcer.
The two nursing homes as well as their owning company Brius Healthcare Services, their administrative company Rockport Healthcare Services and Brius CEO Shlomo Rechnitz have been named as defendants in the complaints. Attempts to contact Rockport and Brius as well as their representing attorney James Yee were not returned Wednesday.
The lawsuits come after Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center was fined $160,000 by the state last month for patient care and staffing violations in 2016, which are currently being appealed by the nursing home.
The latest lawsuit filed March 10 alleges that the Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center failed to check on Kruger’s skin.
According to the complaint, Kruger was admitted to the nursing home in July 2015 after being treated for a neurological condition at hospitals in Eureka and San Francisco two months earlier.
Needham states in his complaint that the nursing home became aware that Kruger had developed ulcers on his tailbone in August 2016. By November, the ulcer had dramatically worsened.
“You have to realize what (the facilities) have literally done is they’ve allowed this person to rot to the point that they’ve got a hole in their back so large you can put your fist in it all the way to their backbone,” Needham said Wednesday.
Complaining of chest pain, fever and pain to his tailbone, Kruger was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka where he died of bone infection and pneumonia on Nov. 9, 2016. He was 64.
About eight months earlier, the 76-year-old Sorensen died at the same hospital from an infected ulcer on his tailbone, according to the complaint.
Sorensen was admitted to Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Humboldt Hill in November 2015 after being treated for an aortic valve replacement, according to the complaint. He did not have an ulcer when he was admitted, the complaint states, but was known to be at risk for ulcer formation in his resident care plan.
In December 2015, a nursing assistant noticed a pressure ulcer on Sorensen’s right buttock, “but neither Mr. Sorensen’s family nor his physician was told about the ulcer,” the complaint states.
Another nurse noticed the ulcer three days later but did not document the wound or inform Sorensen’s family or physician, the complaint alleges. Sorensen then began running a fever of up to 102 degrees and was found to have an abscess on his hip bone, which was later determined to be the ulcer at St. Joseph Hospital.
The complaint alleges that Seaview did not have the required nursing staff under state law to ensure Sorensen received the care identified in his care plan.
“During his stay at Seaview, Ralph Sorensen never once received a shower or a bath,” the complaint alleges. “Nor was his weight monitored regularly, his nutrition intake was not recorded, and regular assessments of Ralph Sorensen’s skin were not made as required of his care plan.”
Needham said the California Department of Public Health issued two state enforcement actions against Seaview in August 2016 for failing to report Sorensen’s health status changes and failing to provide treatment for or prevent a pressure sore from forming. The facility was fined $40,000 for these violations, but the nursing home has appealed the fines, according to the department website.
According to the Medicare nursing home comparison website, Seaview nursing staff provide an average of 18 minutes of time per resident each day compared to the state average of one hour and 57 minutes. Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center has one hour and 29 minutes of nursing care time per patient per day.
This does not include certified nursing assistant time that patients receive, which is two hours or more at the two facilities, according to the Medicare website.
Brius is based in Los Angeles and has acquired more than 80 nursing homes throughout the state since 2006. The company acquired five nursing homes in Humboldt County — Eureka, Seaview, Fortuna, Granada and Pacific rehabilitation and wellness centers — from Skilled Healthcare Group in 2011.
Needham said these staffing issues are not isolated incidents, but are pervasive to Brius Healthcare Services’ nursing homes.
Last year, the Department of Public Health denied Brius Healthcare’s applications to acquire five nursing homes because of the company’s history of health care violations. Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued an emergency motion to block Brius from acquiring 19 nursing homes in 2014, referring to the company as a “serial violator” of state health care laws.
Brius Healthcare sought to close three of its Humboldt County nursing homes last year due to nursing staff recruitment issues. The closure would have resulted in more than 100 patients having to be transferred out of the county, prompting an outcry from local officials and the community. Brius announced last year that it would only be closing Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Eureka, which occurred in January.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.