Lawsuits Filed Claiming Elder Abuse and Record Tampering

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Two lawsuits filed January 16 accuse a Santa Barbara nursing home and assisted living facility operator of elder abuse and record tampering when two residents suffered unexplained and significant injuries. These lawsuits follow a suit filed last year against the same operator, which also claims wrongful death, elder abuse, and record tampering designed to hide care deficiencies.

A string of lawsuits have been filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court against Cliff View Terrace, Inc., parent company to local nursing home Mission Terrace and assisted living facility Cliff View Terrace, for suspected record tampering and neglectful care.

Two elder abuse lawsuits filed on January 16, claim 82-year-old Sylvia Saucedo (Case No. 1265784) and 66-year-old Judith Fortmeier (Case No. 1265782) were each found with serious and unexplained injuries. One suit alleges Ms. Saucedo was found by Mission Terrace staff with terrible bruises covering the left side of her face. Mission Terrace kept Ms. Saucedo for 2 days following the fall despite a deterioration of her condition, and only transferred her to the hospital for evaluation at the family's insistence, the lawsuit says.

Ms. Fortmeier, a resident of the assisted living facility, Cliff View Terrace, suffered 6 fractured ribs, a traumatic injury which her medical records describe as "akin to a motor vehicle accident." According to the lawsuit, her medical records also reveal that she told the doctors and nurses treating her that she was pushed. Three days after the incident, paramedics were summoned and they found her weak, struggling to breathe, and dehydrated. Ms. Fortmeier later died as a result of complications from this injury, the lawsuit says.

What these lawsuits also have in common is the allegation that multiple versions of the resident charts exist. According to the lawsuits, the families were given one set of records and their lawyer, Jody Moore, an elder abuse attorney, was given another. "It is highly suspicious to have 2 versions of the record," Moore said. "Medical records are supposed to be timely written and accurately record a person's symptoms and condition, as well as the treatment being given. When entries are made in a record days or weeks after the fact, and made to look like they were written contemporaneously, you have to wonder what's really going on."

The Saucedo and Fortmeier cases fall on the heels of litigation filed in Santa Barbara Superior court in February 2006, also by attorney Jody Moore, on behalf of Dr. Cyril Padfield (Case No. 1243577). In that case, Dr. Padfield was admitted to Mission Terrace for a short stay for treatment for an infected toe ulcer. Within 5 days, he was found dead. The Padfield lawsuit was the first case to allege that Mission Terrace Director of Nursing Cynthia Barker, and others, added entries to his chart after his death. According to the Padfield suit, these entries were added to hide the care deficiencies. The Padfield suit is scheduled for trial in September 2008.

"State law encourages attorneys to take up the cause of elderly victims of abuse and neglect and strongly discourages confidentiality clauses which hide the facts underlying elder abuse claims," according to Moore. "These families should be commended for being brave enough to come forward and ask questions about what happened to their loved ones."

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