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Nursing Home Slapped with $121,000 Fine in Patient’s Ventilator Death

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A San Dimas nursing home has been fined $121,000 in connection with the death of a 90-year-old woman, who health officials say, died because of the nursing home’s negligence and poor care. According to this news report on KTLA’s Web site, the resident who was dependent on a ventilator, died on October 27, 2007, at the Casa Bonita Convalescent Hospital after being disconnected from the machine. Not only that, but the ventilator’s remote alarm had also been turned off so staff were not alerted to the problem.

State officials issued the Los Angeles County nursing home with what is known as an “AA” citation, which is the most severe fine or penalty that a nursing home can receive under California law. In addition to the $100,000 fine for an AA citation, the nursing home was also slapped with a $20,000 fine for failing to check on the alarm system and a $1,000 fine for failing to implement staff policies that ensured ventilator education and certification. An attorney for Casa Bonita has said that the operator of the facility, Longwood Management Corp, will appeal the fines.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of this 90-year-old woman, who suffocated to death because her ventilator had been turned off and she stopped breathing. A medical ventilator is an automatic machine that is designed to mechanically move air into and out of the lungs to provide a mechanism of breathing for a patient who is physically unable to breathe or is breathing insufficiently.

What happened here? Why were the ventilator and the remote alarm for it turned off at this nursing home facility? Did the staff at this convalescent home, which I’m sure, housed many elderly, frail residents, receive any ventilator training? Going by the news report, I would not be surprised if this nursing home was understaffed or if the staff lacked experience and had not received sufficient training to perform their routine tasks.

A 2003 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that at least one in five of all nursing homes in the United States are plagued by serious deficiencies that place residents in immediate jeopardy or cause them actual harm. The report also points out that the quality of care in these nursing homes drops significantly when residents receive less than three hours of the nurse’s and nurse’s aide’s time per day. That unfortunately happens in about 54 percent of nursing homes. The report states that nursing home staff are underpaid and overworked. Nursing aides in several facilities are paid $7 to $8 an hour for work that is strenuous and stressful. In most nursing home negligence cases that our firm has seen, injuries and deaths at these facilities are directly related to the problem of understaffing and failing to train staff properly.

I hope this woman’s family files a California wrongful death lawsuit against this nursing home, which is in fact appealing the fines! These facilities put profits over the vulnerable residents they are supposed to care for and serve. Such negligence and abuse should not be tolerated. This nursing home and others, who show such callous disregard for their residents, must be made to pay for their wrongdoing.

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