In April 2010, a World War II veteran was admitted to Burbank Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center for a short-term rehabilitative stay following hospital treatment. His doctor expected the patient to remain at the skilled nursing facility for no more than a few weeks before returning home. Sixteen days after admission, he was dead.
This tragic outcome was entirely preventable. The patient was showing obvious signs of ill health (severe constipation, cessation of eating, vomiting) and his autopsy revealed a major rectal blockage that should have been apparent to staff for at least 7 days prior to his death.
Not only did Burbank fail to identify a fatal situation, they took immediate steps to cover up their reckless neglect of the patient. A supervising nurse gave conflicting reports about the circumstances surrounding his death. A senior staff member removed damning medical records and falsified new ones. Not only did she not face charges for this serious criminal offense, she continued to work at the facility long after her misconduct was verified by a documents expert.
Even more egregiously, the shift charge nurse tasked with caring for the patient for most of his stay was described in the trial brief as ‘wholly unfit’ for the job in light of her status as a convicted Medicare fraudster. Her crimes included forging doctor’s signatures and claiming to have provided care for patients when she had not. The fraudulent group of which she was a ringleader cost Medicare in excess of $1.7 million. Burbank hired her with the full knowledge of her crimes, demonstrating a remarkable lack of concern for the elderly patients under her care.
Suck reckless employment practices go beyond mere carelessness. The root cause of death was a concerted, intentional plan by corporate overseers Longwood Management Corporation to maximize profits at the expense of care, in clear contravention of the Elder Abuse Act, which defines ‘neglect’ as the “failure to protect from health and safety hazards.”
Abdication of Corporate Responsibility
The case was not the first time Longwood was sued for negligence, nor the last. Like too many other large scale nursing facility operators, Longwood’s chief concern is to collect revenues gathered by its facilities (in thirty-six of them) while abdicating its responsibility to meet the standards of care we expect for our elderly relatives. Their budget plans didn’t allow for anything more than severe under-staffing at Burbank and other facilities, reflecting willful negligence and disregard for patients.
Longwood reaped an extraordinary profit from the operations of these skilled nursing facilities – to the tune of approximately $50 million a year in distributions and purported officer and director salaries. Now that they have been called to answer for a harm that has been caused by the operations from which they have profited so handsomely they claim that the assetless Burbank Rehab is all that can be reached.
Longwood was one of three companies investigated as part of a state audit in 2018. According to the LA Times, the audit found Longwood’s owners were “swelling profits by doing business with companies they own or in which they have a financial interest.”
There is no room for such ruthless business practices to co-exist with quality standards of care. We cannot allow our vulnerable citizens to be left at the mercy of corporate overseers who refuse to be held accountable for the elder abuse crisis taking place on their dime. Until vital legal reforms are visited on the assisted living and skilled nursing facility industries, our only option is to hit unscrupulous operators in the only place that will make them take notice: their profit margins.