Lawsuit Filed: Elderly Man Chemically Restrained with Unauthorized Drugs; Suffers Aspiration Pneumonia Due to West Hills Care Facility’s Negligence

West Hills, Calif. — Gasper Thomas Cornell, a 92-year-old man with dementia, was admitted to Senior Haven, a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE), because his family could no longer care for him. As a non-medical RCFE, the facility is not licensed to retain dementia patients or residents requiring 24-hour skilled nursing care. It’s alleged that in spite of these restrictions, the facility accepted Cornell, even though facility staff were unfit and unqualified to care for him. Instead of receiving adequate care, the Complaint states that Cornell was illegally overmedicated with dangerous drugs in an effort to keep him quiet. This alleged chemical restraint and neglect continued throughout his approximately one-month residency at the facility. Cornell eventually suffered aspiration pneumonia due to this negligent treatment and was taken to a hospital. His health continued to deteriorate, and his overall quality of life was greatly impacted by the lack of quality care and interventions, the Complaint asserts.

Garcia & Artigliere filed a lawsuit against Senior Haven for elder abuse, negligent hiring and supervision, and wrongful death.

“Gasper needed 24-hour nursing care, which Senior Haven’s staff promised his family he would receive. Instead, the facility allegedly violated the family’s trust, and most importantly, Gasper’s safety and well-being by blatantly and continually neglecting his basic needs,” said Attorney Stephen Garcia. “By law, this facility was not allowed to accept Gasper, but once they did, they became responsible for providing him with necessary custodial care. Sadly, as described in our Complaint, the facility operators’ focus on profits over residents’ health and safety led directly to Gasper’s painful injuries.”

Allegations and Background

Cornell was admitted to Senior Haven on January 7, 2018. The lawsuit alleges that upon his admission, the facility was fully aware of Cornell’s conditions and the level of care he needed. The facility represented to Cornell’s family that he would receive the quality and quantity of custodial care and supervision he required, including assistance with all activities of daily living. On the basis of these claims, Cornell’s family placed their trust in the facility. However, as a non-medical RCFE and not a skilled nursing home, the facility did not meet the licensing requirements necessary to accept and retain dementia patients, nor did they have skilled staff to care for such residents.

The lawsuit alleges that the facility engaged in unabated and recurrent neglect of Cornell, which caused him to suffer catastrophic injuries. The facility withheld basic services and care, and throughout his stay, Cornell was not given assistance to use the restroom or given a shower. He was left lying in bed in diapers 24/7 by facility staff, and rather than bathing him, staff washed him using moist wipes.

Additionally, it’s alleged the facility gave him the anti-anxiety drug Ativan in combination with Seroquel, a psychotropic medication, without the knowledge or consent of his family or doctor. Cornell did not have a prescription for Ativan and there was no legitimate reason for the drug to be in his system.

The lawsuit asserts that everyone in the business of providing custodial care to elderly people with dementia, know that giving them any non-prescribed, mind-affecting drugs without consent is not only illegal, but exceptionally dangerous. The effects of anti-anxiety and psychotropic medications are especially dangerous when mixed, and include increased confusion and lethargy, and can cause physical and emotional ailments and even death in some cases. Dementia already places elderly people at risk of choking, aspiration and cardiac arrest, and drugs that further alter their mental status increase that risk. However, the lawsuit alleges the facility knowingly disregarded these risks and continuously and systematically overmedicated Cornell.

Predictably, on February 9, 2018, Cornell was found by his family in distress with a significantly abnormal pulse. He was taken to West Hills Hospital and Medical Center by emergency transport with admitting diagnoses that included aspiration pneumonia.

Unfortunately, Cornell never recovered from his injuries. His condition rapidly deteriorated after the chronic overmedication and aspiration pneumonia he suffered while at the facility, the lawsuit alleges.

On February 13, 2019, Cornell passed away at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center. As stated in the lawsuit, he had spent the remainder of his life enduring the painful injuries he suffered while unlawfully retained as a resident at the facility.

While Cornell was a resident of the facility, facility operators had a duty to keep him safe from non-prescribed and potentially dangerous drugs. It’s alleged that the facility failed Cornell in this regard by chronically overmedicating him with the purpose of making him easier to control, or chemically restraining him. The staff member who provided Cornell with these dangerous drugs did so knowing it was not only illegal, but exceptionally dangerous.