Long Term Care in California, Fertile Ground for Increased Litigation

An alarming trend of elder abuse cases is causing uproar in California’s courts.  A recent case in Sacramento exemplified how one of the causes for elder abuse, understaffing at a Skilled Nursing Facility (“SNF”), led to a resident’s death.  After a civil lawsuit against the SNF was settled for nearly $3 million, the California Attorney General also individually prosecuted the SNF nurse and director of nursing alleging elder abuse.  The allegations contend that the nurses did not adequately perform their duties and neglected to supervise residents such as the victim.  Fortunately, the hospital staff documented that the victim, who suffered from dementia, had fall-related injuries and marks of abuse, and subsequently died 17 hours after being transported to the hospital.

California’s long term care landscape is varied and complex.  Two of the most common types of long term care facilities are the SNF, which numbers around 1,500 state-wide and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (“RCFE”) which number over 8,000.  SNF residents require the highest degree of care, and unfortunately comprise the largest number of victims for elder abuse.  As the number of SNFs rises and their ownership is increasingly transferred to private equity groups, so too are the opportunities for cost-cutting and lowering of staffing levels to maximize profits.