S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
“Elder abuse does not always come in the form of a physical attack,” stated former California Attorney Xavier Becerra. “It can result from utter neglect and lack of proper care, as we allege in the case of Emily Jones. Assisted living residents are a vulnerable population all too often victimized by acts of neglect and improper care.”
In this instance, the neglect and abuse resulted in the death of 69-year-old Marjorie S. a resident at Brookdale Senior Living facility in Riverside.
Registered nurse Emily Jones, an employee of VITAS Healthcare who was assigned to provide hospice care for the resident, now faces charges. VITAS is the nation’s largest for-profit hospice chain providing hospice, palliative and end-of-life care.
When the charge against Jones was announced, Becerra stressed that as a registered nurse, she owed her patients, due care.
“Assisted living residents are a vulnerable population all too often victimized by acts of neglect and improper care. We must hold our medical professionals accountable for their actions.” He stressed. “[T]he California Department of Justice is committed to protecting the health and safety of our residents.”
Court documents reveal Jones was the resident’s case manager and allegedly failed to record the discovery of open ulcers in Marjorie’s medical records. She also failed to notify a medical doctor and the resident’s family of her deteriorating condition. Due to the purported lack of care, Marjorie’s condition worsened and eventually led to her death.
The California Board of Registered Nursing (the Board) opened an administrative investigation into Jones’ actions and concluded as the resident’s case manager, she failed to appropriately assess an ulcer she discovered on the patient’s right heel, a plan of care was never developed, and the ulcer worsened into a wound that required emergency surgery to Marjorie’s right foot, which had become septic and gangrenous. Following the surgery, the resident suffered a continued decline in health and eventually passed away.
In response to the Board’s findings the California Department of Justice also investigated the case through its Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
Jones was charged with one count of felony elder abuse. Court documents further indicate because of the abuse, the elderly victim suffered great bodily harm.
In an unrelated case, in 2017 The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the settlement of a False Claims Act lawsuit against VITAS which accused the company of fraudulently admitting patients for hospice care and then billing Medicare for the medically unnecessary services. It is estimated Vitas received up to $1 billion or more each year as a result of the Medicare fraud scheme.
VITAS and its parent company Chemed Corp. reached a $75 million settlement agreement in October 2017. Then Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said it was the largest False Claims Act settlement ever recovered from a hospice service provider.
“Medicare’s hospice benefit provides critical services to some of the most vulnerable Medicare patients, and the Department will continue to ensure that this valuable benefit is used to assist those who need it, and not as an opportunity to line the pockets of those who seek to abuse it,” he stated.
Brookdale on the other hand also has an unclean record when it comes to patient care. In 2017,the same year VITAS settled its False Claims Act lawsuit, elderly care facility residents in northern California filed a ground-breaking Class Action Lawsuit against Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. and Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc. claiming financial abuse, widespread violations of the American with Disabilities Act and understaffing.
The suit, which originated in San Francisco, was soon joined by a senior resident at the company’s Hemet facility. The resident’s family purportedly found him smelly and sitting on a urine soaked pad. The class action lawsuit is pending,
Meanwhile, in November 2020 a securities lawsuit was filed against the company by shareholders alleging the company’ top executives and board members allowed multiple violations of Brookdale’s corporate governance policies to go unchecked, causing the company to intentionally underestimate data used for staffing algorithms.
The company does not comment on pending litigation.
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.