By Brian S. Kabateck
A recent lawsuit filed in Santa Clara Superior Court underscores the pressing problem of elder abuse and neglect in California and the country.
The family of Richard Van Truong is suing a Bay Area nursing home for wrongful death and medical negligence. In December 2021, 71-year-old Truong went to the Kaiser-affiliated Vasona Creek Healthcare Center following surgery. The family alleges Truong was served a contaminated sandwich approximately three days later. The patient became ill with gastrointestinal symptoms, rapidly worsening into seizures and a cardiac emergency.
According to the suit, staff at the facility initially called Truong’s family—but not the paramedics. Truong’s daughter arrived to find him vomiting and experiencing severe convulsions. Nurses attempted CPR, but Truong twice went into cardiac arrest, and a paramedic then arriving on the scene declared, “This one’s a goner.”
Lab work at Good Samaritan Hospital, where Truong was transferred, found E. coli bacteria in his lungs. The patient suffered brain damage and died after a month on life support.
Truong’s wife and children contend that he “developed sepsis and septic shock as a result of an infectious process which developed due to deplorable, unsanitary conditions” at Vasona Creek and a lack of appropriate action by its staff.
The provider has faced wrongful death claims in the past. In 2019, the daughter of Assurhadoun G. Khofri filed a suit (still pending) against Golden Oak Holdings, LLC and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, alleging that her father died at Vasona Creek (their skilled nursing facility) because workers failed to provide a proper duty of care. The suit contends that the patient was malnourished, dehydrated, and suffering from ulcers, urinary tract infections, and sepsis. Still, the staff inadequately documented his condition and failed to report it to the attending physician. The action claims that the defendants’ business practices, which include understaffing, underqualified and insufficiently trained staff, and aggressive marketing intended to increase the overall number of residents and the population of high-needs patients, resulted in prolonged neglect.
What is elder abuse?
According to the World Health Organization, “The abuse of older people, also known as elder abuse, is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence violates human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.”
Elder abuse can result in physical illness and injury, a decline in mental health, including depression and suicide, more frequent hospitalization, decreased quality of life, and increased mortality.
Consider these statistics:
- An elderly person is abused every five seconds in the United States.
- The Department of Justice estimates that 1 in 10 elders 65+ suffer abuse. Some studies reflect a number closer to 15-16%.
- Abuse rates are highest in institutions such as nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and hospitals—1 in 6 elderly patients in a community setting is abused.
- Almost 65% of staff in such facilities report that they have committed these abuses in the last year.
- Seniors with disabilities, mental illness, dementia, and low income are at greater risk of mistreatment.
- California’s alarming record:
- The California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes reports that California has more than double the national average of elder abuse reports.
- California’s rate of elder abuse complaints is the highest in the nation—36% greater than #2, Florida.
- 11% of all U.S. elder abuse cases are in California.
- Instances of abuse increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The global population of seniors (aged 60+ years) is projected to double over 35 years (2015-2050). This rapidly aging population increases the risk that the mistreatment of elders will escalate.
More concerning still—the actual numbers are likely higher, as elder abuse is widely misunderstood and believed to be underreported. Many individuals experiencing abuse have physical or cognitive limitations that prevent them from coming forward; dependence on the abuser, fear of retaliation, and confusion about what constitutes abuse and neglect.
If you or someone you love has been mistreated in an elder care environment, we want to hear your story. The skilled and compassionate plaintiff’s attorneys at Kabateck, LLP have many years of experience pursuing justice and damages for victims of injury, abuse, negligence, and wrongful death, as well as compensation for surviving family members. Our firm has recovered over $2 billion in landmark verdicts and settlements for our clients.