Three brothers have filed a lawsuit alleging their 89-year-old father died from COVID-19 largely because of staff neglect at a Placentia assisted-care facility.
The complaint from Paul, Ronald and Gary Garcia against Sunrise Villa Bradford on behalf of their father, Gilbert Garcia, initially was filed in October in Orange County Superior Court and then transferred late last month to U.S. District Court.
Michael P. West, an attorney for Sunrise Villa Bradford and its parent companies, Welltower Opco Group LLC and Sunrise Senior Living Management Inc., also named as defendants in the suit, argued the case should be moved to federal court because the entities are located in various states.
The Garcia brothers are seeking unspecified damages for elder abuse, neglect and wrongful death in the lawsuit that highlights the difficulties families sometimes face when entrusting the care of loved ones to others amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint also puts blame for Gilbert Garcia’s July death squarely on Sunrise Villa.
Profits over care
“Defendants’ conduct was the calculated result of defendants’ scheme to prioritize profits over resident care by underfunding, undertraining, and understaffing the facility,” the lawsuit says. “This includes taking shortcuts in the hiring, training and retention of employees, and ignoring proper infection control measures.”
Officials with Sunrise Senior Living Management declined to comment on the allegations.
“Sunrise Villa Bradford is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for its valued residents, and to following federal, state, and local public health guidelines,” company spokeswoman Nicole Vasile said. “As a matter of practice and to protect the privacy of our residents and team members, we do not comment on specific, pending litigation. We will respond to the allegations in court as part of the judicial process.”
According to figures from the California Department of Social Services, there have been fewer than 11 positive COVID-19 cases and fewer than 11 deaths among Sunrise Villa residents. In addition, there have been 14 positive cases and fewer than 11 deaths among staff.
The specific number of resident and staff deaths at Sunrise Villa was not disclosed in the state figures.
Sunrise Villa, which is licensed to house 136 residents, offers assisted living, Alzheimer’s and memory care and short-term stays, according to its website.
History of health problems
Garcia, who was admitted to Sunrise Villa in August 2017, suffered from a history of heart attacks, stroke, glaucoma and hypertension.
Although Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4 specifically emphasizing the vulnerability of California’s elderly population, Sunrise Villa failed to implement appropriate infection control measures or follow public health guidelines, according to the lawsuit.
On March 12, the complaint notes, Sunrise Villa informed one of Garcia’s sons that residents were permitted to be checked out of the facility for outings, if scheduled in advance.
“Allowing facility residents to leave the facility for outings and return rendered the facility’s infection control measures moot,” the suit says.
COVID-19 policies allegedly relaxed
By late May, doctors determined Garcia had lost five pounds, dropping his weight to 139 pounds, and ordered his blood pressure to be monitored for several days.
“Thus, defendants knew, or should have known, Garcia was at further increased risk of complications or death related to COVID-19 due to his advanced age, weight loss, and preexisting health conditions,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint also states that at about the same time, as the pandemic showed no signs of slowing and public health officials continued to stress the importance of infection control, Sunrise Villa began relaxing its procedures and announced plans to resume group dining for residents.
Then, after a Sunrise Villa employee tested positive for COVID-19 on June 12, staff arranged the next day for Garcia to have his hair cut by a third-party barber at the facility.
“Defendants failed to adhere to infection control protocols by allowing third parties, such as barbers, to enter the facility,” the lawsuit says.
On June 15, Garcia reported being especially tired and experiencing diarrhea. Family members contacted him via a video call and observed a Sunrise Villa staff member administering his medications and eye drops wearing a mask but without gloves or a protective gown.
Father tests positive at hospital
Sunrise Villa notified families on June 17 that all residents and staff would be tested for COVID-19. Later that day, employees at the facility suggested that Ronald Garcia take his exhausted and feverish father to an urgent care facility.
“Rather than isolating Garcia when he began experiencing symptoms, defendants asked Garcia’s son to personally transfer Garcia to urgent care — at great risk to himself,” the suit says. “Ronald felt he had no choice but to get Garcia the care defendants could not provide.”
The lawsuit does not specify whether Ronald Garcia or his brothers contracted COVID-19.
Furthermore, a licensed vocational nurse at Sunrise Villa admitted to Ronald Garcia the facility was not prepared to handle his father when he returned from urgent care with a suspected COVID-19 diagnosis, the complaint says.
On June 18, Gilbert Garcia was experiencing confusion and was taken by ambulance to Placentia-Linda Hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19. The complaint alleges his death at the hospital less than a month later was a result of Sunrise Villa’s “acts and omissions.”
“Defendants’ conduct alleged … was extreme and outrageous and is beyond the bounds of that tolerated in a decent society,” says the suit. “Defendants knew that they had accepted responsibilities for the health, safety and well-being of Garcia, but they refused to provide the requisite care.”
Source: Orange County Register