Lawsuit Filed: Elderly Woman with Dementia Found Unresponsive After Given Wrong Medications at Yucaipa Nursing Facility

Yucaipa, Calif. — Kathleen Thomas, an 86-year-old woman suffering from dementia, arthritis and other medical conditions, was admitted to Braswell’s Mediterranean Gardens, a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE), for special care and supervision. It’s alleged that while she was a resident, Thomas suffered multiple hospitalizations and unnecessary injuries because of the unfitness of facility staff to care for a resident with Thomas’ conditions and needs. According to the Complaint, in one incident, Thomas fell from bed and was allegedly left lying on the floor for four hours until she was transferred to the hospital for treatment. Further, it’s alleged that Thomas was given another resident’s medications and was again transferred to the hospital after the facility found her unresponsive and foaming at the mouth. After leaving the facility, Thomas’ condition improved, however, the long-term effects of the medication errors are still to be determined.

Garcia & Artigliere filed a lawsuit against Braswell’s Mediterranean Gardens for elder abuse, and negligent hiring and supervision.

“Upon admission and throughout Kathleen’s residency, Braswell’s Mediterranean Gardens should have known through assessment information, family information and physician’s notes provided to the facility, that she was a high risk for serious injuries and therefore required special care and assistance. As alleged in our Complaint, the facility fraudulently portrayed itself as being able to provide such care,” said Attorney Stephen Garcia. “Based on the apparent medication mismanagement, it’s clear the facility lacked the trained staff and resources to care for patients requiring a higher level of care, but admitted Kathleen anyway. As a result, she suffered avoidable pain, trauma and injuries.”

Allegations and Background

On March 15, 2017, Thomas became a resident of Braswell’s Mediterranean Gardens after an episode of forgetfulness and confusion when she left water running and flooded her apartment. This incident, in conjunction with a diagnosis of dementia and arthritis, forced her family to consider placing her in an assisted living facility, and they ultimately chose Braswell’s Mediterranean Gardens.

RCFEs are an intermediate step between independent living and nursing homes. They do not provide medical treatment and are not required to have doctors or nurses on staff. Instead, these facilities provide varying levels and intensities of non-medical care and services based upon residents’ needs. State law prohibits RCFEs from retaining people who require a level of care beyond what they can provide, including people suffering from dementia and those in need of 24-hour skilled nursing care, which Thomas required due to her dementia, chronic arthritis and other medical conditions.

However, the lawsuit alleges that Thomas was admitted to the facility despite her medical requirements and health conditions, and that the facility presented itself as being able to provide the required care for people with dementia, when in fact it did not meet the training requirements of a facility advertising dementia special care.

During the period following her admission to the facility, Thomas suffered from a number of missteps. One such misstep occurred in 2017 when Thomas fell out of bed. After the fall, she was unable to get up and was found lying on the ground by facility staff four hours later. This fall necessitated her transfer to Redlands Hospital for evaluation and treatment. After treatment, and despite her known conditions and need for a higher level of care, the facility accepted Thomas back, which was in reckless disregard for her safety, the lawsuit alleges.

On October 20, 2018, Thomas’ son received a call from a staff member at the facility. In a panicked voice, the staff member informed him they had requested 911 to transfer Thomas to a hospital after they found her unresponsive and foaming at the mouth. When Thomas arrived at Redlands Community Hospital, her skin was grayish in color, and she had an abnormally slow heart rate and labored breathing. Additionally, pressure sores were discovered all over her legs and coccyx.  Hospital emergency personnel were unable to determine what was wrong with Thomas, and why she was unresponsive and unable to communicate coherently.

Two days later, on October 22, 2018, the facility administrator called Thomas’ family while she was still hospitalized and informed them that a facility medical technician had given Thomas another resident’s medications just before they had found her unresponsive and foaming at the mouth.

When hospital staff was informed of the medication error, they conducted further tests that were positive for cardiac medications, psychotropic medications, and anti-seizure medication. Thomas did not have prescriptions for any of these medications. The mind-altering propensities of cardiac, psychotropic and anti-seizure medications, especially when mixed together, increase confusion, lethargy and sedation. This danger is heightened for elderly persons with dementia and places them at risk of choking, aspiration and cardiac arrest.

The lawsuit alleges that Thomas was in the sole and exclusive care and custody of the facility, and the facility had a duty to keep her safe from non-prescribed and potentially dangerous drugs. It further alleges that the staff member who provided Thomas with these dangerous drugs did so knowing it was not only illegal, but extremely dangerous. Indeed, Thomas suffered altered mental status, sedation, unresponsiveness and an adverse reaction that left her foaming at the mouth from these drugs.