Sunrise Senior Living faces another neglect and negligence lawsuit (08/20/08 Orange County Register).  Sunrise was ordered to pay $2 million in damages after the death of a resident in May.  The family of Therese Sperry is suing Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living which owns and operates Villa Valencia Health Care Center.

Sperry spent two weeks in Villa Valencia’s skilled nursing unit in January 2007. She developed avoidable pressure ulcers on her feet that were neglected and went untreated.  The lawsuit alleges negligence by Sunrise Senior Living and says the nursing home failed to provide adequate medical staff for ailing residents – despite five health and safety citations in the last decade by state health regulators.   The most recent violations, from last year, include sexual molestation of a patient during a bath and failure to change a patient’s catheter often enough to prevent infection.

After a brief hospital stay, she was sent to Villa Valencia for a week to gain strength.  Four days after her admission, she had redness on both heels, which later developed into ulcers that spread to her muscle and bone. Sperry’s family immediately transferred to a different nursing home, where she was properly treated for wounds.  She endured debilitating pain until her death.

The suit argues that the facility "carried out a scheme to place ‘profits over people’ … (and) intentionally underfunded and understaffed the facility in order to decrease expenses and increase profits."  Proof of understaffing arose in the trial over the death of Mary Kathleen Adams, who also developed pressure ulcers while at the center in February 2005. She died two months later.  In May, a jury ordered Sunrise to pay $2 million to Adams’ family for negligence and punitive damages.

"Big corporations like Sunrise cut down on costs and staffing at the expense of patients," said Kim Valentine, one of the lawyers representing the Sperry family, and who also represented Adams.  Valentine also said court testimony showed employees were quitting because of the poor quality of care – a finding reflected in a report by the independent California Nursing Home Search. The agency found that nursing staff turnover at Villa Valencia was 82 percent in 2006, much higher than the state average of 67 percent.