The California Department of Justice and the district attorneys of four counties, LA, Santa Cruz, Marin, and Alameda, filed suit last week against a company called Mariner Health Care Services, alleging that the company ‘siphoned off funds necessary for appropriate staffing,’ while accusing it of ‘trading people for profits at every turn.’
Identifying and weeding out the bad apples is a laudable objective, but the lawsuit highlights a fundamental problem of our well-intentioned regulators: too little, too late.
No doubt, the Department of Justice and the DA’s will eventually succeed in penalizing Mariner Health Care Services, but we must ask, ‘what took them so long?’ It’s not as if the family of companies, based in Maryland and Georgia, which operates 19 skilled nursing facilities in California, has a spotless record. Indeed, the New York Times published an article last September in which it documented the case of an 87-year-old woman with dementia who was sent to a hospital Emergency Room because she was scaring other residents. Twenty-four hours later, when the hospital discharged her, the nursing home refused to take her back. According to the New York Times, the nursing home said they didn’t know the patient wanted to return. By the time they readmitted her, she became infected with Covid-19 and died a few weeks later. Mariner Health Care owns the facility in question.
No surprise, facilities owned by Mariner Health Care were among the hardest hit in California with Covid-19 deaths. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, 20-30% of the residents at some of its facilities died during the pandemic. “We just don’t know why,” said a spokesperson for the chain.
So why are so many nursing homes putting profits over people?
Let’s connect a couple of dots for our otherwise clueless nursing home employee. When facilities short staff to save money, which Mariner Health Care has a long and documented history of, residents suffer. That’s because the overworked and underpaid staff don’t have enough time to take care of the patients, which means they end up cutting corners. An elder abuse and prevention ombudsman put it this way:
“If you have a resident who is in distress and who has fallen, your instinct is to go and help that person. But maybe you haven’t washed your hands. If you have additional staffing, those kinds of errors are going to happen less frequently.”
The lawsuit filed by the California Department of Justice and the four DA’s alleges that unacceptably low staffing levels resulted in insufficient care, leading to unnecessary leg amputations, bone ulcers, the spread of infections, and unreported sexual and physical assaults. The state found 1,548 violations of regulations at Mariner’s nursing homes in the past five years.
Come on, guys. Why did it take 1,500+ violations to get your attention?! Maybe it’s not just the nursing homes that are short-staffed. Could it be that we need more regulators or at least ones who are quicker on the draw?
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting nursing home abuse, elder abuse and wrongful death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy York today!