The elder abuse crisis is not confined to assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Hospices have also been guilty of severe neglect and abuse due to a lack of oversight and corporate accountability.
In 2012, a patient of Sacramento’s Bristol Hospice fell and suffered an injury to her leg. The injury led to a gangrenous sore that ultimately resulted in the woman’s death a few weeks later.
The woman’s daughter subsequently filed a complaint with the Department of Public Health, followed by a civil lawsuit charging the hospice with reckless, malicious neglect.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs maintained that components of the neglect were fraudulent in nature, with the hospice pursuing a ‘deliberate plan’ to maximize profits by illegally certifying patients who were not eligible for hospice care. This, in conjunction with deliberate under-staffing, amounted to elder abuse and neglect.
The failures of care were attributed to a ‘systemic operational crisis’ that put the profits of Bristol’s corporate overseers before patient care. It’s a familiar story of bloated organizational structures that can’t possibly provide the level of care required by patients. In this case, the hospice was owned by a management company that operated more than ten hospice agencies across the western United States; the management company was owned by a holding company; the holding company by a parent company responsible for forty-six nursing facilities and multiple management companies. This labyrinthine corporate structure ensured that exorbitant fees were extracted for those at the top, in return for minimal services.
This case clearly demonstrates the tragic consequences of systemic failure, and highlights the urgent need for accountability. Department of Public Health records obtained at the time by the Sacramento Bee indicates that Bristol Hospice continued to violate regulations even after the results of the department’s investigation came to light. Eight subsequent complaints were filed against the hospice; in five of them, the department ruled that staff were not properly trained. Despite repeating the same deficiencies across multiple cases, Bristol and their corporate overseers endured no financial penalties and thus had no fear of any disincentives to business as usual.
With the Department of Public Health failing to sanction the hospice in any meaningful way, the families of elder abuse and neglect victims have no other recourse than the pursuit of accountability and recovery through civil action.
Fortunately, in the case outlined above, legal negotiations succeeded where the Department of Health could not. Bristol settled the case and agreed – at the victim’s daughter’s behest – to sell its operations to a different company.