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Residents Can Sue Nursing Homes for Inadequate Staffing, California Court Rules

August 22, 2012

The California First District Court of Appeal ruled that the representatives of residents of 16 Alameda County-based skilled nursing facilities have the right to sue Covenant Care, the company that operates the homes, for failing to provide adequate nursing staff for its residents.

California regulations require a minimum of 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day, which includes hours of work performed by aides, nursing assistants, or orderlies, as well as registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses.

The appeal court overturned a trial court’s June 2011 decision supporting Covenant Care’s claim that only the California Department of Public Health has the authority to enforce the regulatory statute on nursing hours — not individuals.

Covenant Care also argued that “litigating the case would necessarily involve the court in a regulatory ‘thicket’ of nursing home staffing regulation[s] that is best left to administrative expertise.”

Systematically Concealed and Misrepresented

The plaintiffs also contend that the inadequate staffing was “systematically concealed and misrepresented to members of the general public, including plaintiffs and their families” through various communications such as promotional materials and admission agreements.

They allege that the nursing home staffing was inadequate on 35 percent or more days over a four-year period from December 2006 through December 2010.

“You don’t have the state protecting residents, so the residents don’t have anything else except lawsuits,” California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform Executive Director Patricia McGinnis told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Should the trial court decide in favor of the plaintiffs, current and former residents could each receive up to $500 for each violation. The plaintiffs’ intended goal, however, is for the nursing home operators to comply with staffing regulations, the Chronicle reports.

— by Deane Beebe

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