A Hayward nursing home will have to pay almost $20 million in damages and court costs after a jury found it responsible for the death of some residents and significant neglect of others.
At the end of a four-month trial, the Alameda County jury on Thursday found that Parkview Healthcare Center committed “fraud in the commission of neglect,” according to Susan Kang Gordon, one of the attorney for the 10 plaintiffs — nursing home residents and the families of dead patients — who were awarded $9.6 million in punitive damages from the center and its parent company, Mariner Healthcare. The other attorneys were Jennifer Fiore and Jody Moore.
Earlier in the court proceedings, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $3.9 million in compensatory damages for “pre-death pain and suffering,” as well as all attorneys costs and fees, Kang Gordon said.
“I think it sends a strong message,” she said.
“The companies are reviewing their options, including appealing the findings regarding punitive damages and one of the more unusual elements of this case: the court’s decision to combine ten plaintiffs with unrelated claims into one lawsuit,” said Dan Kramer, a spokesman for Mariner Health Care. “As demonstrated by today’s verdict, this decision had an outsized impact on jurors that severely prejudiced the companies.”
The lawsuit detailed problems it contends began well before COVID-19 devastated nursing homes but were exacerbated by the pandemic, as this news organization documented last year.
The problems were rooted in persistent staffing shortages, according to the lawsuit and interviews with patients’ families.
A lack of proper staffing resulted in patients going without proper wound care or bathing. Linens, towels and diapers were constantly in short supply, leaving residents sitting in filth, according to the patients’ families.
In 2018, at least four patients were sexually or physically assaulted by another resident who was allowed to roam freely around the facility, according to the lawsuit. The patients screamed for help, sometimes for more than half an hour as they were assaulted. One resident pressed her call button next to the bed repeatedly — but no one came.
Multiple patients in the facility suffered from scabies and head lice outbreaks. Some sustained injuries when they were left unattended, such as a man who fell while trying to get into his wheelchair. The wheelchair’s brakes had not been applied, and he broke his hip and developed a respiratory infection as a result of the fall, the suit claims. He later died from multiple complications.
Another resident fell out of a wheelchair in April 2019 while unattended and suffered traumatic brain injuries, the lawsuit also contends. That’s when his family discovered he had sores on his leg and had developed a gangrene infection. His leg had to be amputated, and he died in August 2019 of complications from his poor care, according to the lawsuit.
When COVID-19 hit, it amplified the facility’s problems. Family members reported not being able to confirm with the facility whether their loved ones had tested positive. From a distance, they worried that the short-staffed facility wouldn’t be able to stop the virus from invading.
Ultimately, 18 residents died of COVID-19, according to records from the state health department.
This spring, about a year after the Parkview patients and family members filed their lawsuit, the state sued the nursing home’s parent company, Mariner Health Care Services, accusing it of “trading people for profits at every turn.” That lawsuit is still pending.
Mariner “siphoned off funds necessary for appropriate staffing,” according to the complaint filed by the California Department of Justice and the district attorneys of Alameda, Marin, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles counties.
Those prosecutors allege that low staffing levels in Mariner’s nursing homes have resulted in insufficient care, leading to unnecessary leg amputations, bone ulcers, infections spread and unreported sexual and physical assaults.
The suit also accuses Mariner of illegally booting residents from its facilities without legal due process or proper discharge procedures in an attempt to free up beds up for new Medicare patients, who bring in more money than those on Medi-Cal. Mariner also falsified information reported to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to boost its ratings, according to the suit.
In July 2020, after this news organization reported that six Parkview patients had died of COVID-19 and families were suing over staffing issues, state investigators for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health launched an investigation.
Cal-OSHA fined Parkview Healthcare Center $67,500 for “serious” violations: the facility did not isolate patients with COVID-19 or suspected of having it quickly enough and did not make sure employees wore masks or knew how to properly don protective gear, according to the investigators’ notes.
The facility also did not sufficiently train employees about infection prevention practices or provide access to any written procedures about infection control, wrote Wendy Hogle-Lui, a compliance officer with Cal-OSHA.
Mariner’s facilities in Northern California — aside from Parkview — include Almaden Health and Rehabilitation Center and Skyline Healthcare Center in San Jose, Creekside Healthcare Center and Vale Healthcare Center in San Pablo, Driftwood Healthcare centers in Hayward and Santa Cruz, Pine Ridge Care Center in San Rafael, Fremont Healthcare Center in Fremont, Hayward Hills Healthcare Center and Fruitvale Healthcare Center in Oakland. It also has about nine facilities in Southern California.
Fiore said the case highlights the danger of chronic understaffing.
“The jurors did not tolerate the fraudulent means by which (the nursing home operators) were reporting staffing,” she said, adding that patients were treated by the nursing home “like everyone is just a bed to them.”