August 22, 2008 in City

Nursing home company faces class-action suit

Extendicare has worst record in county, lawyer says
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A lawsuit filed Thursday in King County accuses a Wisconsin-based nursing home company of cheating thousands of residents out of the care they were promised at 15 Washington state facilities, including one in Spokane with the county’s worst record of care.

Extendicare Homes Inc. “has the most abysmal record of deficiencies from the Washington Department of Social and Health Service I have ever seen,” said Stephen M. Garcia, Long Beach, Calif., attorney for the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of residents who have lived in Extendicare facilities in Washington since 2004.

In that four-year period, Garcia said, he has found 517 violations of state law by Extendicare, including 65 notices of deficiencies in 2006 and 2007 alone at the company’s north Spokane facility, Franklin Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center, the most of any nursing home in Spokane County.

Garcia said had only been able to see records for two of the four years.

An Extendicare spokesman said that the corporation had not had time to evaluate Thursday’s complaint but that a class-action lawsuit implies that all residents in a facility would have been equally affected by any deficiencies.

“There are approximately 189 requirements that each facility must meet,” said Jared Elliott, area vice president of Western Operations for Extendicare. “These deficiencies are typically isolated to just a few residents and do not impact most residents in the facility.”

In 2006 and 2007, Franklin Hills paid $10,000 in fines and nearly lost its federal certification as a result of unfavorable inspections, The Spokesman-Review reported.

In that period, Extendicare’s Spokane Valley facility, Gardens on University, had 48 notices of deficiencies and was fined $4,000 for dispensing medications improperly.

The corporation’s Valleycrest nursing home in Spokane closed in 1996 after losing federal support, and its Coeur d’Alene facility, LaCrosse Health and Rehabilitation Center, was put on probation in 2000 after an Alzheimer’s patient attacked fellow patients in a locked ward, the newspaper reported.

In March, Extendicare received permission to proceed with a new 120-bed facility in south Spokane – expected to open in 2010 – after the corporation beefed up training at its Franklin Hills facility.

On Thursday, the lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of the Howard Steele, the father of Lee Ann Steele, a now-deceased resident of Extendicare’s Aldercrest Health & Rehabilitative Center in Edmonds, Wash.

The woman, who earlier had suffered a stroke, was asphyxiated when her trachea closed while at Aldercrest. According to the plaintiff’s Seattle attorney, Kevin Coluccio, Steele had been left alone for hours. She died as a result of brain damage months later.

The lawsuit does not seek damage for personal injury, but rather redress from unfair business practices under the state’s Consumer Protection Act, Garcia said.

Fundamentally, the attorney said, Extendicare’s business model is to aggressively seek patients needing the most acute care to receive the highest possible federal reimbursements, while operating at minimum staffing levels to increase its profit margin.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email