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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced civil and criminal enforcement action against Sun Healthcare Group, Inc. (Sun) and its subsidiaries that will result in court-enforceable changes aimed at improving quality of care for elderly residents at the chain's 80 facilities located throughout California.
"This settlement marks the first time in California that a national nursing home chain has been prosecuted by the Department of Justice for poor quality care," Lockyer said. "As a result of this enforcement action, nearly 8,000 residents in Sun-operated nursing homes should benefit from the improved quality of care now required and agreed upon. The required changes make good business sense for nursing homes and ensure the compassionate care that elderly Californians deserve."
The settlement of the civil and criminal complaints against Sun and/or its subsidiary was approved by the San Mateo County Superior Court on Wednesday. In entering the civil settlement, the nursing home chain did not admit to wrongdoing.
The enforcement actions stem from over 100 citations against the nursing home and investigation into the severe dehydration and health complications of nursing home patients at the San Mateo nursing facility Sunbridge Care and Rehabilitation for Burlingame during a June 2000 heat wave. The skilled nursing home, serving approximately 275 patients, lacked air conditioning and had a history of poor heat dissipation and problems with elderly patients suffering from dehydration. Two nursing home patients died and six others suffered severe dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. On average, the body temperatures of the eight frail, elderly patients rose to over 106 degrees.
In the criminal enforcement action, Rose Rehabilitation Center, a California subsidiary of Sun, entered a "no contest" plea to a felony violation of elder abuse relating to three victims of the June 14-15, 2000 heat wave.
Sun also has divested the Burlingame facility and the new owners have announced major capital improvements will be made, including the installation of an adequate air conditioning system. The divestiture had been pursued in the settlement negotiations.
In addition to problems at the Burlingame facility, the civil enforcement action considered the more than 100 citations issued by the California Department of Health Services against Sun facilities statewide in the past four years for violations of regulations.
In settling the civil complaint, Sun and its California subsidiaries have agreed to meet state and federal regulations governing quality of care, significantly increase staff training, and develop more oversight/compliance mechanisms. These improvements also require annual progress reports to the Attorney General and the establishment of a corporate level compliance committee to monitor and ensure that required improvements are being made. Highlights of Permanent Injunction.
"As a result of our prosecutorial efforts, elderly Californians residing in Sun's 80 facilities statewide will begin receiving a higher level of care and protection," Lockyer stated. "There should be no more excuses from nursing homes that fail to provide quality care and dignified living conditions for our older Californians."
Since becoming Attorney General in January of 1999, Lockyer has added 20 new prosecutors and investigators to the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse ("BMFEA") to aggressively combat abuse, neglect and poor quality of care problems in skilled nursing facilities. As a result, over the course of the past three years, the BMFEA has filed almost four times the number of cases than were filed in the prior five years combined. Last month, the Attorney General received a national award from the United States Department of Health and Human Services for having the top-performing health care fraud and elder abuse prosecutorial program in the country.
Sun operates nursing homes in the following counties with the number of facilities shown in the parenthesis (View List): Alameda (4), Butte (2), Contra Costa (2), Fresno (3), Glenn (1), Humboldt (4), Lassen (1), Los Angeles (17), Marin (1), Mendocino (1), Monterey (3), Napa (1), Orange (5), Placer (1), Plumas (1), Riverside (1), Sacramento (4), San Benito (1), San Bernardino (2), San Diego (9), San Joaquin (4), Santa Cruz (2), Shasta (1), Siskiyou (1), Solano (3), Sonoma (2), Sutter (1), Tehama (1) and Yuba (1).