Lawsuit says elderly care home too understaffed

January 14, 2007 11:00 pm
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Sunwest Management Inc., which manages the Addie Meedom House in Crescent City, alleging the company deliberately understaffs its assisted living communities to increase profits. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Sunwest Management Inc., which manages the Addie Meedom House in Crescent City, alleging the company deliberately understaffs its assisted living communities to increase profits. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).

By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

A class action lawsuit filed against the operators of an assisted-living facility in Crescent City alleges that the company deliberately understaffs its assisted living communities to increase profits.

This practice, according to the lawsuit, leads to the neglect of elderly residents at Sunwest Management Inc. facilities, including the Addie Meedom House in Crescent City.

Sunwest is a for-profit, elderly care firm located in Salem, Ore.

"They are not providing the care that they promise to provide," attorney Stephen Garcia said. His firm, The Garcia Law Firm, is heading the lawsuit against Sunwest's California facilities.

The lawsuit states that facilities are forced to operate under a budget approved and directed by Sunwest to increase business profits. This causes facilities to understaff and charge for advertised services that are not provided. In some cases, understaffing has been blamed for deaths of residents.

Employees and administrators at the Addie Meedom House would not comment on the situation or how it might affect their facilities or residents. It is unclear whether they are facing any budgeting pressures or have any violations related to the lawsuit.

The Addie Meedom House is one of 16 Sunwest-operated elderly facilities in California. There are more than 200 such communities in the country.

The lawsuit listed problems at several Sunwest-managed facilities in California.

At Paragon Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care in Mission Viejo, a 71-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer's disappeared from the facilities, the lawsuit said. Staffers did not realize the man was missing until the following morning. He is now presumed dead by the local sheriff's department.

In 2006, at a Yreka facility, three families of elderly residents sued Sunwest for resident deaths they blamed on negligence and understaffing.

"One of two things are happening," Garcia said. "Either the workers don't know what they're doing. Or they don't have enough resources to do their jobs properly."

"I don't believe it's the workers who don't know what they're doing," he said, alluding to Sunwest's profit-minded budgeting and understaffing.

Officials from Sunwest, however, deny the allegations and are in the process of finding their own legal representation.

"We deeply regret the filing of this frivolous lawsuit and adamantly disagree with its contents," said Steve Stradley, a Sunwest risk manager.

Stradley said he could not divulge additional information about the suit until Sunwest had more time to examine the lawsuit.