Family sues skilled nursing facility in Aptos woman’s death – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Family sues skilled nursing facility in Aptos woman’s death – Santa Cruz Sentinel


WATSONVILLE — A lawsuit filed against Valley Convalescent Hospital by the loved ones of 79-year-old Ann Williams alleges elder abuse, fraud and wrongful death against the facility.

After attempts to contact the administration at the skilled nursing facility, the Sentinel did not hear back from a representative before its publishing deadline.

Lawyers for Williams’ two sons alleged in a press release this week that staff at Valley Convalescent killed Williams by depriving her of food and water. Williams suffered from severe dementia and needed help with tasks such as eating and drinking, which is something the family claims Valley Convalescent knew when she was admitted in 2018 in order to recover from hip surgery.

“While Ann was still at Valley Convalescent, her roommate told the family that Ann would motion for staff to help her get water, but she wasn’t getting enough … (her son’s wife) reports that she even wrote that ‘she’s non-verbal’ on the whiteboard in Ann’s room,” lawyers of the Santa Cruz-based Scruggs, Spini & Fulton said in the statement. “The family’s efforts were obviously ignored.”

The family also alleges that when Valley Convalescent knew Williams’ Medicare benefits were about to expire, they discharged her and “dumped” her on the doorstep of assisted living facility Paradise Villa Feb. 22, 2019. She was visibly emaciated and dehydrated, they say.

“Their nurse who was clearing her for admission as is required saw her the next day, and immediately dialed 911,” said attorney Dana Scruggs.

After Williams was allegedly rushed to Dominican Hospital, she was placed in hospice care and died five days later. In the three months leading up to her death, Williams was said to have lost nearly 40 pounds or one-fourth of her body weight.

Both her lab results from her stay at the hospital and her death certificate indicate she suffered metabolic encephalopathy or brain injury from dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, the family’s representation states.

Pushing forth

Currently, the lawsuit is in the hands of the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office as it investigates the claims. The family lawyers say that Valley Convalescent has denied responsibility for Williams’ death and has avoided a public trial through arbitration. The firm alleges, however, that Valley Convalescent failed to pay arbitration fees in a timely manner, leading the case back to Santa Cruz public court. Last month, the facility filed an appeal of the order; a motion to dismiss the appeal is pending.

Attorneys fear the appeal is an attempt to delay justice for the Williams family in the case that was filed in 2020, according to their statement.

“It has often been said that justice delayed is justice denied,” the release concludes.

Scruggs said Williams’ sons are entitled to loss of consortium or the loss of their relationship with their mother. In the lawsuit, the relief requested is described as non-economic and economic damages according to proof, punitive damages according to proof, $500 per violation of Williams’ patient rights and attorneys and court fees.

“Because we believe this a case of clear and convincing elder neglect and abuse, on behalf of Ann the survivors are entitled to pre-death pain and suffering and their attorneys’ fees in prosecuting the case,” the attorney said. “The amount of damages to be awarded is up to the jury at its discretion, but this is the type of case where the conscience of our community in the form of a jury often speaks loudly.”

According to California Department of Public Health records, Valley Convalescent has been cited for a total of 11 state and federal deficiencies since June of 2018; the deficiencies had to do both with resident care and infrastructural issues. In one instance in December of 2019, neither a male resident nor his beneficiary was made aware of Medicare non-coverage until five days after Medicare stopped paying for his physical therapy services.

“According to the Medicare Claims Processing Manual, revised 3/8/19, written notices must be issued far enough in advance so that the beneficiary can make a rational, informed decision without undue pressure,” a CDPH auditor wrote in their report.

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