An epidemic of misfeasance by DSHS and adult-family homes in Washington

The Seattle Times reported this morning that a $900,000 settlement was reached in a case against DSHS and Houghton Lakeview, a Kirkland adult-family home related to the death of an 87 year old woman from untreated pressure sores.

The woman, who had lived in the home for several years, suffered from pressure sores, also known as bed sores, on her back and elsewhere that had burrowed to the bone. No one called her family. No one alerted a doctor. Caregivers failed to report or properly treat the festering wounds for 22 days, DSHS later concluded. Hobbled by Alzheimer’s disease, the woman had difficulty communicating or moving. At night, she would scream in pain, medical records show. Eventually, a caregiver called the woman’s son, not 911, with a vague description of an emergency. He raced to the home, then rushed his mother to the hospital, but infection had already spread to vital organs. She died in June 2008 at her son’s Bellevue home under hospice care. Bedsores are a common ailment in long-term-care facilities and are easily treatable.

Haughton Lakeview, the home responsible for the woman’s care, had been cited 33 times by DSHS for inadequate care and substandard conditions. Two caregivers were convicted felons, barred from such work. Two others had forged nursing credentials. The public was never warned – nor were the residents in the home. In May 2007, a DSHS investigator tried to revoke the license of Houghton Lakeview after uncovering 11 flagrant violations, including caregivers with forged nursing credentials or felony convictions, and failure by staff to provide medications or report alleged abuse. Nonetheless, DSHS supervisors overruled the recommendation and closed the case with a $200 fine.

In 2010, the caregiver who made the call to the woman’s son was sentenced to 31 months in prison for first-degree criminal mistreatment. Adult-home owner Patricia Goodwill was sentenced to a year in jail for second-degree criminal mistreatment. DSHS settled the case for $650,000. Goodwill’s insurance company settled for $250,000.

This case is strikingly similar to a 2009 case which DSHS settled for $565,000 related to the death of a 74 year old woman from untreated pressure sores. In that case, DSHS supervisors ignored their own investigators’ pleas to shut down the Tacoma home, owned by Arlie Leno, which had amassed more than 135 serious violations since 1990. Leno’s home remains licensed.

With rising numbers of low-income seniors in need of long-term care, Washington and dozens of states are banking on these residential facilities as alternatives to more costly nursing homes. Washington has 2,838 adult-family homes licensed to provide room and board for up to six vulnerable adults. Since April 2010, at least 446 homes have been cited for violations of health or safety standards.

The state has strict rules for accountability and transparency in adult-family homes. Where these rules are not followed and residents are injured or die as a result, the residents and their family members may have claims against DSHS and/or the home. If you or someone you know has been injured in an adult-family home, contact an attorney to investigate whether there is a claim against the home or DSHS.