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Lawsuit Filed: Elderly Man Wrongfully Sedated with Antipsychotic Drugs

Garcia & Artigliere

Concord, Calif. — Vernon Charles Watters, a 73-year-old man with severe Alzheimer’s disease, was admitted to San Miguel Villa, a skilled nursing facility, for custodial care in August 2014. It’s alleged that during his residency, Watters was kept sedated with powerful antipsychotic drugs as punishment for his wandering and sometimes combative behavior, and for the convenience of staff. As a result of the ongoing use of chemical restraint on Watters and other alleged negligent treatment he experienced, his condition rapidly declined until he could no longer walk. According to the lawsuit, once bedbound, Watters’ skin began to break down due to the continuing inadequate care from staff, who, shockingly, even hid a pressure sore on Watters’ heel from his family and doctor. Once the sore was finally discovered, it had progressed to an infected and severe Stage III wound. As a result of the facility’s alleged subpar care, Watters suffered months of unnecessary and severe pain until his death in 2018.

Garcia & Artigliere filed a lawsuit against San Miguel Villa for elder abuse, negligent hiring and supervision, and wrongful death.

“The facility knew the severity of Vernon’s medical conditions and agreed that they could provide the care and services he needed, but instead, they allegedly kept him sedated to relieve the chronically understaffed facility,” said Attorney Stephen Garcia. “Based on Vernon’s injuries, it’s clear the facility staff didn’t have adequate time or the inclination to provide him with required care or to document and address his emergent conditions. Our lawsuit states that this understaffing and lack of training plan was designed as a mechanism to reduce labor costs and predictably resulted in the abuse and neglect of many residents in the facility.”

Allegations and Background

In August 2014, Watters was admitted to the facility suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that left him unable to communicate coherently or make his needs known. His conditions caused episodes of combativeness and a tendency to wander unassisted. As a result of his health conditions and associated needs, Watters was dependent upon facility staff for all activities of daily living, which included turning and repositioning his body, transferring into and out of his bed and wheelchair, dressing, grooming, bathing, hygiene, toileting, and medication management. By accepting Watters as a resident, the facility agreed that it could and would meet his custodial needs, including those pertaining to his Alzheimer’s-related behaviors.

The lawsuit alleges that rather than provide Watters the skilled care and services he required, the facility used powerful antipsychotic drugs to sedate him and control his Alzheimer’s-related behaviors. This was done not only to discipline Watters for suffering the very conditions for which he was admitted to the facility, but also for the convenience of personnel at the chronically understaffed facility, each of whom were responsible for far more residents than they could care for.

The lawsuit further alleges that as a result of significant medication errors and chemical restraints, Watters’ overall condition progressively declined. By giving him powerful antipsychotic drugs, the facility disregarded Watters’ right to be free from chemical restraints and the repeated directives by his family to cease overmedicating him. As a result, Watters experienced a further rapid decline. When he entered the facility, he was still able to swallow without assistance. After admission, Watters’ eating ability declined to the point that he needed his diet modified—first, to a soft diet and eventually to pureed foods.

It’s alleged that on one occasion, Watters’ family caught a caregiver hurriedly shoveling huge amounts of food into his mouth that he could not chew or swallow. This substandard care caused Watters to choke and contract a lung infection.

By about 2017, Watters became bedbound. Remarkably, the withholding of care and services continued despite the facility’s knowledge of his now even more heightened needs and particular vulnerability to skin breakdown and pressure sore development, the suit alleges.

It’s known to all involved in long-term nursing care that pressure sore prevention requires keeping the skin clean and dry, maintaining good nutrition and keeping pressure off vulnerable parts of the body. Pressure is relieved by changing a person’s position as often as necessary and using pressure relieving devices, such as pads and special mattresses.

The suit alleges that the facility failed to meet this standard of practice for Watters and the skin on his heel began to break down. Despite this breakdown, the facility continued to withhold necessary care and services. Rather than float his heel with a pillow, facility staff left Watters in a reclining wheelchair with his heels placed atop the wheelchair footrests.

To compound matters, the facility fraudulently concealed the skin wound, the lawsuit further alleges. By law, skilled nursing facilities must notify a resident’s physician immediately if he or she develops a pressure sore, and must follow the doctor’s treatment orders to clean and dress the wound. However, the facility failed to inform Watters’ family or doctor about the development of the sore. When the facility finally told Watters’ family about it, the wound on his heel was Stage III and infected.

Sadly, on February 28, 2018, Watters passed away. He had spent the remainder of his life enduring incredibly painful injuries. Despite his advanced age and existing conditions at the time he first entered the facility, his quality of life was greatly impacted by the lack of quality care he received. The abuse and neglect he experienced at the facility caused both Watters and his family unnecessary and prolonged suffering, the lawsuit alleges.


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