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Hospital fined in death of 83-year-old

Jul 18, 2006 | www.sbsun.com
Patient is Dying

Inadequate Care That Led To The Death.

Inadequate care that led to the death of an 83-year-old woman has earned Rimrock Villa Convalescent Hospital an AA citation - the most severe under state law.

The California Department of Health Services issued the citation and fined the skilled-nursing facility $65,000. An AA citation can carry fines from $25,000 to $100,000, depending on the facility's past performance.

Rimrock Villa executive director Mary Lou Miller declined to comment about the incident Monday, but said, "We are appealing the decision to the state."

Norma Arceo, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services, said a facility has to have done things that directly lead to the death of a patient to earn an AA citation.

"If the patient had received appropriate care, then this incident wouldn't have happened," Arceo said. "We look to see if a plan of care was established and if it was followed."

The patient, who had diabetes, congestive heart failure, Parkinson's disease and dementia, also had problems with short- and long-term memory. Upon checking into Rimrock on April 29, 2004, she had no problems eating or swallowing, according to her medical records.

Therapist To Warn Staff Of Special Precautions.

But a June 22, 2005, incident led a therapist to warn staff of special precautions to be taken during mealtimes because she had difficulty swallowing.

The therapist examining the patient recommended that the staff seat her upright during meals, and remind her to take small bites and alternate bites of food with liquid swallows.

On Jan. 19, the woman was given a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich as a bedtime snack. According to the state report, the staff did not sit her upright or remind her to take small bites. According to the patient's records, a staff member only told her, "Remember, you promised you gonna eat."

The patient ate the sandwich but was found unresponsive by a staff member about 10 minutes later. Rimrock Villa staff administered CPR, but the woman was pronounced dead there. Her death certificate lists choking as the cause of death.

According to records, the 59-bed convalescent home has been the subject of numerous complaints in recent years.

Many were deemed unsubstantiated by the state. The substantiated complaints include patient-care problems and reports of patient abuse.

About 25 AA citations a year are issued in the 1,342 skilled-nursing facilities overseen by the state, Arceo said.

The state Attorney General's Office is checking into the possibility that elder-abuse laws were broken. The office's findings could generate a criminal complaint or civil lawsuit.

Need Legal Help Regarding Hospitals Inadequate Patient Care

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