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Media Coverage

 

July 24, 2010

Oakland Oakland's Woman's Family Sues Assisted Living Home In San Leandro Tribune "

OAKLAND - Eventually, Frances Graham was going to die. She was 81 years old. Alzheimer's disease had claimed her memories. She used her eyes to communicate. Her children knew it was a matter of time until she passed on.



What shocked them and led to a wrongful-death lawsuit is how she died: bruised and battered, her eyes swollen shut, while doctors discovered gaping sores, some the size of a baseball, across her withered body.



The family is suing the assisted living home in San Leandro where Graham spent the last years of her life, her doctor and the nonprofit in charge of coordinating Graham's care -- the Oakland-based Center for Elders Independence. The family claims Graham died because they put profits over safety.



Owners of the Andrew Elijah Guest Home blamed the Center for Elders Independence. The center, which handles services for thousands of seniors across the East Bay, said in a written statement in June that the agency is dedicated to promoting the autonomy, quality of life and the ability of individuals to live in their communities.



"We are confident that a complete investigation and thorough analysis will conclude that CEI has complied with our mission," the statement reads.



But according to the lawsuit and medical records reviewed by the Oakland Tribune, Graham was kept at the Andrew Elijah residential care home despite laws that require patients in her condition to be cared for by a skilled nursing



Staff:



Instead, she was all but invisible to oversight agencies formed to prevent what happened.



The California Department of Social Services, the California Department of Health Care Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would not comment on Graham's case because of the lawsuit. The Department of Social Services, however, has launched an investigation.



The case is a chilling reminder that the number of seniors will double in the coming two decades while the regulation and oversight of senior care facilities -- which are multiplying in number and responsibilities every year -- lags far behind.



"My mother didn't deserve to die like that," said Clyde Graham. "That's the bottom line."



Violent attack:



The attack happened early in the morning on June 12, 2009. Graham's screams woke Rosario Soliven, one of the two full-time caregivers at the Andrew Elijah Guest Home. Graham had lived there since 2003.



By the time the attack happened, she was bedridden and spent most of her days in bed, curled up in a fetal position. She had to be fed, bathed, moved and dressed.



Soliven rushed to the room Graham shared with Wu Soon Shin, a 72-year-old woman who suffered from dementia. Common symptoms of dementia include difficulty with controlling moods and behaviors, as well as agitation and aggression.



Soliven found Graham in bed, covered by dozens of cuts on her head and knees. Her left eye was bruised and bleeding. Shin stood next to Graham holding a purple plastic hair pick, according to a police report.



An Eden Medical Center trauma care doctor treated Graham's wounds and sent her back to the Andrew Elijah home. The owners put her in a private room. Two days later, after Clyde Graham said he noticed his mother was having trouble breathing, an ambulance rushed her to the San Leandro Hospital with pneumonia.



A doctor at the hospital discovered so many sores on Graham's body that he wrote, "We tried to find as many as possible. We were not sure whether we actually viewed them all."



Sores covered her body. The worst smelled foul and left gaping 4-inch holes that went down to the tendons. She was also dehydrated and anemic.



"If I had known about the sores," Clyde Graham said of the Andrew Elijah home, "she wouldn't have been there."



After the assault, Cecilia Juntilla, who operates the guest home with her husband, Alex, told the center that Graham needed more care than her staff could provide.



They moved her to the Fruitvale HealthCare Center, where she died two days later. The time was 6:35 p.m. It was June 19, 2009 -- Clyde Graham's birthday.



"It wasn't right," he said, "but I had to sit there and watch my mother die."



Independent care:



Clyde Graham and his sister tried keeping their mother at home, but when she started wandering from her apartment on Lincoln Street in Oakland, they decided to turn over her care to the Center for Elders Independence.



The Oakland nonprofit has served thousands of seniors and hundreds of elderly people who are frail over the past 18 years.



Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner recommended in 2009 that Aug. 12 become Center for Elders Independence Day after Medicare certified the organization to participate in the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.



The center suggested the Andrew Elijah Guest Home on Purdue Street. The Juntillas also operate two other assisted living facilities in San Leandro, the Andrew Elijah Guest Home II on Beechwood Avenue and the Andre Alexis Guest Home on Charles Road.



The state allows assisted living facilities to offer only basic help with daily activities such as meals, bathing, dressing, laundry, housekeeping, and assistance with medication, but the Juntillas had obtained an exemption to care for dementia patients.



Records show that the Andrew Elijah Guest Home on Purdue was cited during a 2009 Department of Social Services inspection because one of the residents with dementia hadn't been seen by a doctor in five years. By law, residents must see a doctor every year. Cecilia Juntilla, who also is the home's administrator, said staff misplaced the records.



Graham lived there for six years before Shin moved in sometime in late May 2009.



Police reports show one of the caregivers told an officer that Shin, who only spoke Korean, had been increasingly violent since moving into the home three weeks before the attack.



Cecilia Juntilla said the Center for Elders Independence encouraged her and her husband to keep Graham because she would get more care with them than at a nursing home. Cecilia Juntilla admits her staff is trained only to handle residents' most basic needs. But she said she knew her home was not allowed by law to house bedridden residents or anyone with such advanced pressure sores. She said she didn't know the severity of the sores because the Center for Elders Independence had responsibility for Graham's medical needs.



The center, in turn, sent home health nurses from East Bay-based Nightingale Nursing to check on Graham beginning in December 2008, when there were five sores. Medical records reveal that she had four severe sores in April 2009 that required round-the-clock medical attention. Nightingale Nursing founder and chief Barbara Hamrick said her staff reported the severity of the sores to Graham's doctor and the Center for Elders Independence.


The lawyer representing the family and advocates expressed doubts that sores of the magnitude that covered Graham could have gone undetected by Andrew Elijah staff.


"If they didn't know, they should have," said the attorney, Felicia Curran. "It's their business. Otherwise, it's neglect."


Oversight lagging:


The problem with assisted living centers is that oversight hasn't kept pace with the model, said Eric Carlson, an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center. Meanwhile, residential facilities are taking on more seniors with more complex, chronic medical needs.


"One of the problems in residential care is people getting in over their heads," Carlson said. He called the situation "a prescription for disaster."


Contact Angela Woodall at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/angelawoodall or Facebook.com/angelawoodall.


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Many nursing homes maximize their own profits at the expense of their highly vulnerable elderly and disabled residents.
National Senior Citizens Law Center
Many nursing homes maximize their own profits at the expense of their highly vulnerable elderly and disabled residents.
National Senior Citizens Law Center
Many nursing homes maximize their own profits at the expense of their highly vulnerable elderly and disabled residents.
National Senior Citizens Law Center
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