Lawsuit Filed: Elderly Woman with Dementia Suffers Multiple Falls & Kidney Damage from Medication Errors Due to Visalia Nursing Home’s Negligence

Visalia, Calif. — Julie Balderas, a 90-year-old woman with dementia, was admitted to Linwood Meadows Care Center for custodial care in 2017. It’s alleged that because of facility staff negligence during her residency, Balderas suffered several severe falls that required hospital visits; wandered unseen from the facility numerous times; and endured medication errors that left her unable to communicate and with kidney damage. A California Department of Public Health investigation later substantiated the allegations of medication errors. Balderas passed away in December 2018, just days after being transferred from the facility to the hospital. According to the lawsuit, the substandard care provided to Balderas resulted from the facility operators’ focus on unlawfully increasing their business earnings by underfunding the facility, instead of providing the legally mandated minimum care to elderly residents.

Garcia & Artigliere filed a lawsuit against Linwood Meadows Care Center for elder abuse, and negligent hiring and supervision.

“As alleged in our Complaint, Julie’s injuries would not have occurred had the defendants simply complied with applicable state and federal rules, laws and regulations, as well as the acceptable standards of practice and guidelines governing the operation of a skilled nursing facility which are designed to protect the health and safety of patients,” said Attorney Stephen Garcia. “Moreover, through deficiencies issued by the Department of Health Services and other lawsuits against the facility, it’s clear the defendants were aware of their ongoing negligent care. Instead of correcting their deficiencies, the facility’s management operators and owners focused on ways to increase their revenues. They did this by allegedly diverting funds into their own pockets and leaving the facility with insufficient funds to meet the needs of its residents, including Julie.”

Allegations and Background

Balderas was admitted to the facility in May 2017, following a hospital stay at Kaweah Delta Medical Center. She had been hospitalized after falling at home and subsequently exhibited periodic confusion and disorientation. By this time, her diagnosis included dementia with wandering behaviors. Her family could no longer care for her at home and placed Balderas in the facility for long-term care.

Balderas’ conditions left her dependent for all activities of daily living, including transferring, mobility, dressing, grooming, bathing, hygiene, toileting and medication management. Just prior to admission, the facility and Balderas’ family discussed her conditions and associated needs, including her episodes of incontinence and dementia-related behaviors. During the discussion, facility operators guaranteed to Balderas’ family that while the facility did not have a lockdown or memory care unit, the facility could and would meet the custodial care needs of Balderas and keep her safe, the lawsuit alleges.

Unfortunately, it appears the facility failed Balderas in this regard. In January 2018, she was hospitalized at Kaweah Delta Medical Center after falling at the facility. Her admitting diagnoses included a urinary tract infection and facial lacerations. By 2018, she had also become wheelchair bound, incontinent and had developed swallowing difficulties. By July 2018, she showed increasing Sundowners’ and dementia-related symptoms, including severe agitation in the evenings, hallucinations and combativeness.

In October 2018, Balderas fell face forward out of her wheelchair and was again transferred to Kaweah Delta Medical Center. When she arrived there, hospital personnel discovered bruising on her face and hands.

After this incident, Balderas eloped from the facility several times. In one instance, she was found in the parking lot. Requests by her family to put interventions in place to keep her safe went unanswered, the suit alleges.

From October 2018 through November 2018, Balderas suffered a series of falls. The facility had yet to put an alarm or low bed in place to address her tendency to attempt unassisted transfers. She was routinely found incoherent by her family, sleeping through the day, and barely able to open her eyes. In fact, another resident’s family became so concerned about Balderas’ apparent decline that they told her family that facility staff routinely left Balderas lying in bed all day, according to the lawsuit.

On October 19, 2018, Balderas’ facility physician started medication orders for her that included 3 mg per day of Lorazepam concentrate administered under the tongue for anxiety and another 0.5 mg of Lorazepam solution by mouth as needed every six hours for restlessness, which would add another 2 mg of the drug to the 3 mg that Balderas was routinely receiving.

On November 18, 2018, Balderas suffered another unwitnessed fall. Six days later, on November 24, her family found her unresponsive and unable to open her eyes or communicate. She was finally transferred to Kaweah Delta Medical Center on November 28, 2018. Her diagnoses included severe dehydration and acute kidney damage resulting from medication errors, the suit alleges.

On December 4, 2018, the Department of Public Health investigated and substantiated the allegations pertaining to the medication errors suffered by Balderas. During the investigation, it was found that the facility pharmacist had recommended in writing, on a form dated November 5, 2018, that the Lorazepam dosage be reduced to 2 mg per day, which is the maximum recommended dosage per day. The response from staff caring for Balderas was the following: “IDT agrees to start Depakote (an anti-convulsant sometimes used to treat manic episodes related to bipolar disorder) then decrease to BID (twice a day), reevaluate effectiveness of medication x 3 weeks.” Also, during the investigation, the facility’s director of nursing was unable to find documentation related to monitoring for possible adverse reactions or side effects from the Lorazepam use.

On December 13, 2018, Balderas passed away after spending the remainder of her life enduring painful injuries caused by the alleged incompetent care she received while at the facility.