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Lawsuit against Extendicare transferred to federal court

A lawsuit filed this summer in King County against Extendicare Homes Inc. has been moved to federal court with new allegations of illegal activity by the company.

Extendicare operates 16 nursing homes in Washington, including one in Spokane that has the county’s worst record of care.

The class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle claims Extendicare’s admissions policy is designed to fill beds while disregarding the severity of a patient’s conditions or whether a particular Extendicare facility has the staff and resources to accommodate a patient’s needs.

The lawsuit also claims that Extendicare facilities require patients to sign admission agreements that include a provision to limit the liability of the company, in apparent violation of state law.

Extendicare’s Seattle attorney, Barbara Duffy, said the lawsuit is nearly identical to a series of lawsuits filed in California and Oregon in recent years by the same attorney representing the Washington plaintiffs, Stephen M. Garcia, of Long Beach, Calif.

“A couple got dismissed and some settled,” Duffy said of the California and Oregon cases. She said it is “too bad for the provider community” that these cases have now been filed in Washington.

Carl Tabor, area director of clinical services for Extendicare in Gig Harbor, Wash., said, “the claims of this attorney are just so far off base.”

Garcia said his lawsuits are fashioned to improve care and that in Oregon a court-ordered independent auditor was put into place to oversee Extendicare’s operation.

Upon filing the lawsuit in King County District Court in August, Garcia said Extendicare facilities had racked up hundreds of state violations, 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 during that period. Franklin Hills also paid $10,000 in fines and nearly lost its federal certification as a result of unfavorable inspections.

Extendicare’s Spokane Valley facility, Gardens on University, had 48 notices of deficiencies and was fined $4,000 for improperly dispensing medications. The company’s Valleycrest nursing home in Spokane closed in 1996 after losing federal certification, and its LaCrosse Health and Rehabilitation Center in Coeur d’Alene was put on probation in 2000, The Spokesman-Review reported.

In March, Extendicare received permission to proceed with a new 120-bed facility in south Spokane.