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Nursing Home Case Is Settled for $1 Million

A wrongful death suit ends with the payment to the family of a woman who was a patient at Maywood Acres in Oxnard

Feb 18, 2004 The family of a Camarillo woman who died last year after 79 days at an Oxnard nursing home accepted a $1-million settlement this week in its wrongful death civil suit against the facility.

Mary Shofner, 75, was a colon cancer survivor and suffered from dementia but was otherwise in good health, her granddaughter, Jenifer Stoltz, said. Shofner had recently moved to Ventura County with Stoltz when she was briefly hospitalized with a respiratory problem and transferred to the Maywood Acres Healthcare Center in November 2002.

After 12 weeks, Shofner had lost 26 pounds, was unable to walk, had unexplained bruises on her chest and neck, experienced severe bedsores down to her bone, was frozen in a fetal position and had urinary tract and other infections from too little attention to her hygiene, the family's attorney said. She died March 21, 2003, of respiratory failure due to malnutrition, Alzheimer's disease and ulcers from bedsores on her left hip and buttocks, the attorney.

"We were overwhelmed with this whole situation," said Stoltz, who choked up Tuesday when describing the grandmother she had visited on weekends while growing up. "It was never about the money. No amount could ever replace my mammaw. She's priceless."

The administrator of Maywood Acres declined to discuss Shofner's treatment and the settlement, but issued a written statement saying patient care was the facility's primary concern.

"We take every issue brought to our attention seriously," the statement said. "We currently are in compliance with state and federal regulations. As a courtesy to our residents, it is our company policy not to discuss litigation."

An Oxnard attorney who negotiated the settlement with the insurance company of Maywood Acres' parent company, Kindred Healthcare Inc. in Louisville, Ky., said it was important to Shofner's family to alert others about conditions at the 98-bed nursing home.

Sylvia Taylor, executive director of Long-Term Care Services of Ventura County, said a complaint in the Shofner case originally made by a healthcare worker who treated her once she left the nursing home resulted in the state Department of Health Services assessing a $10,000 fine against Maywood Acres. The facility was cited in 2002 for being understaffed and admitted in 2003 to having too few workers on duty during certain days to meet state minimum care standards.

Taylor said the goal of her nonprofit group, which regularly inspects the 24 nursing homes and 150 residential-care homes in the county, was not to shut a particular facility but to improve care across the board.

She said the settlement should focus attention on the elderly living in long-term care facilities. "If someone has family here [in a nursing home] that they can visit, they should do that as often as they can and bring things to our attention," she said.

Foundation Aiding the Elderly in Sacramento has filed a dozen public interest lawsuits against nursing home chains operating in California, including Kindred Healthcare, alleging inadequate staffing.

"The nursing home industry is notoriously understaffed all over the country," said Carole Herman, founder of the organization. "We're hoping to get their attention by getting the courts to mandate that they staff their facilities according to the law. It's been proven over and over again in the courtroom that when there's a lack of staff, you can point directly to poor care and abuse."

Stoltz, 31, is studying psychology at Ventura College and lives in Camarillo with her husband, Dennis, and their two children. She said she would take part of her settlement proceeds to establish a nonprofit group, Voices of Mary, to advocate for better treatment of the elderly.

One of the goals would be to lobby for legislation requiring nursing homes to begin around-the-clock video monitoring of all patients with dementia or Alzheimer's and of stroke victims who can't speak for themselves.

Shofner "always cared for others," Stoltz said. "Her dedication and love for her family and friends was truly an inspiration. I aspire to be like her. She would not want this to happen to anyone else."

Last week the Kentucky attorney general announced that Kindred Healthcare would pay nearly $3.7 million to settle complaints at four of its nursing homes in that state. Allegations against the facilities included instances of patient dehydration, untreated or delayed treatment of infection, injuries, lack of attention to life-threatening conditions, failure to treat wounds and failure to administer medication.

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