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By: Carol J. Cardwell-Gibbons, J.D
Arlene Renteria was only 38 when she died, and Arelene’s family is devastated and angry! For years, from June 16, 2000 until March 2, 2003 Arlene lived, if you could call it that, at California-based Covina Rehabilitation Center (Covina). Poor Arlene suffered from a degenerative brain disorder that left her totally helpless, and at risk for bed sores, because she could not control her body’s movements. Arlene’s condition left her completely vulnerable and at the mercy of Covina’s employees and what Arlene’s family asserted was ‘inadequate staffing’ and failure to follow Arlene’s plan of care.

According to the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform[page 5], the court found that the employees of Covina did not follow Arlene’s plan of care, which called for daily checks of her skin for possible abrasions and bed sores. Arlene’s plan clearly called for a doctor to be notified if bed sores were present. But, it was only after Arlene was hospitalized for a severe bout of diarrhea that a doctor discovered her open wounds! Unfortunately, it was too late for Arlene as vast amounts of bacteria had already done their damage causing Arlene’s death.

Adding insult to injury, an appeals court refused to hold the owners of Covina, Sun Healthcare, financially liable to Arlene’s family for her death. Arlene’s family no doubt trusted Covina to take good care of Arlene. Can you even imagine the guilt they feel? PBS says that having to put a family member in a nursing home is one of the most guilt-producing events one can experience.

Arlene’s family knows that money won’t bring Arlene back, but they believe the owners should be punished for their part in causing Arlene’s death. And, make no mistake centers like Covina are a ‘for profit’ business! And, it can be a real money-maker for the owners. In fact, on August 1, 2007 according to Reuters, Sun Healthcare’s 2nd Quarter profits were up (NASDAQ) so it makes sense that they have managed their company and invested well to be doing so good in today’s often volatile market.

Appallingly, Sun Healthcare’s officers and stockholders pulled off a real coup when the appeals court found that even though Sun Healthcare, who benefited financially, through their investment in Covina, they could not be held financially liable to family members. So, how could the appeals court allow Sun Healthcare’s officers and stockholders to hide behind ‘smoke and mirrors’ to avoid financial liability for the death of a precious family member-dead at just 38 years of age. That is what Arlene Renteria’s family wants to know!

Finally, according to Sun Healthcare’s own August 2007 presentation, called fittingly enough the “Investor Relations Roadshow” [page 14], they are seeking higher profit margins by actively going after patients just like Arlene who require more intensive and complex care with higher reimbursements. So appeals court, tell me how can Sun Healthcare’s officers and stockholders continue to profit off the backs of the sick and vulnerable and then get off scott free when they cause the death of a patient or two??? Should we just call it murder for hire?

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