Elder abuse and neglect awareness is more important now than ever

June 3, 2020 | 11:42 am


June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, and there is not a more important time than now to protect and be mindful of our most vulnerable citizens.

Senior residents have been especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those in nursing and care facilities. As of June, more than 25,000 residents died and 60,000 were infected in the United States as the coronavirus swept through our country’s nursing homes, according to federal data, in which about 80 percent of the nation’s nursing homes reported data to the federal government, and statistics include cases since early May.

Unfortunately, those impacted the most are housed in facilities with a history of low marks for staffing and patient care, reports show.

“We have to be able to provide adequate care to our elder loved ones in these faculties, while at the same time protecting them from being infected,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and elder abuse and neglect attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “For them, it’s literally a matter of life and death.”

During “normal” times, California sees 176,000 cases of reported elder abuse cases each year, according to Kern County Aging & Adult Services. And officials estimate that for every case known to reporting agencies, 24 cases go unreported. This month — during Elder Abuse Awareness Month in Kern County, with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 — Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants to remind everyone of the importance of speaking up for those who cannot, our oldest, frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Our law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.

Local skilled nursing facilities are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks affecting staff and residents alike. The Kern County Department of Public Health says facilities requested immediate help with staffing shortages, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility. Recently, the Kern County Board of Supervisors moved forward with a plan to designate an accountability officer from the Kern County Emergency Services to oversee issues at the state-regulated nursing care faculties.

“… It’s an inadequate amount of staffing that leads to poor patient care. Poor patient care leads to poor patient outcomes. Poor patient outcomes especially in the elder care world often times leads to death,” Clark said in an interview with 23ABC.

Local media reported that the California Department of Public Health cited the Kingston Health Care Facility more than a dozen times for serious violations. Several lawsuits have been filed against the facility for elder abuse and neglect and wrongful death, some by Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Clark shares that the best way for people to review nursing home conduct and reports is my visiting Medicare.gov. Users can research any skilled nursing facility, and check ratings and staffing ratios.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our state’s senior care facilities put residents in danger.  A 2019 investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that some operators of senior board-and-care homes violated labor laws and often also endangered or neglected their residents, sometimes with dire consequences. Reveal analyzed thousands of licensing records and hundreds of U.S. Department of Labor cases in California and conducted two dozen interviews with workers, residents and their family members in the first comprehensive accounting of failures in care homes whose operators preyed on vulnerable caregivers, many of them poor immigrants, and elderly residents. In California, which has the most licensed senior care homes of any state, federal data showed that operators broke minimum wage, overtime or record-keeping laws in more than 500 cases over the last decade. In 1 in 5 of these cases, operators were cited for health and safety violations that endangered residents, Reveal found.

 

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT

So why does elder abuse go unreported? Many times, elders have no family to report to. They also fear retaliation from “caregivers,” or they feel shame in regards to abuse. Another reason is they fear they will lose independence, or fear they will upset their own family members. Many times, however, victims simply lack understanding of how to report abuse.

Another issue lies is recognizing elder abuse and neglect. In fact, elder abuse can take many forms including:

  • Physical abuse: Inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior (slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means).
  • Sexual Abuse: Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect: The failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse: Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts (humiliating, intimidating, or threatening).
  • Abandonment: Desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect: Characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

Lastly, how do you recognize elder abuse and neglect, and what are the warning signs. Here are a few of them:

  • Bruises, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person.
  • If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

It’s important to alert others if you have suspicions, and to retain an attorney. In an emergency, call 9-1-1. To report cases of elder abuse, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services as part of the Kern County Aging & Adult Services, or contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

  • Adult Protective Services responds to reports from individuals, concerned citizens, social service and health providers, and law enforcement representatives about developmental disabled adults, physically and mentally disabled adults, and the elderly who may be physically or financially abused, neglected, or exploited. Upon receipt of a referral, APS sends a social worker to make a home visit or contact the elder or dependent adult.
    • 24-Hour Hotline: 800-277-7866 or 661-868-1006
  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program investigates elder abuse complaints in long-term care facilities and in residential care facilities for the elderly. The primary responsibility of the program is to investigate and endeavor to resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual residents in these facilities, including nursing homes, residential care facilities for the elderly, and assisted living facilities. The goal of the program is to advocate for the rights of all residents in long term care.
    • Phone: 661-323-7884

And if you or someone you know experiences elder abuse or neglect, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s specialized website focused on elder abuse at bakersfieldelderabuse.com.

Older Driver Safety Awareness: Helpful tips for driving safely while aging well

December 5, 2018 | 9:19 am


They are our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. They are also the wisest among us.

Still, our senior citizens many times depend on us to watch out for them, and this is especially important when it comes to driving a motor vehicle. For Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, observed in December, make it a point to talk to your older loved ones about driving safety.

“Everyone should have the freedom to travel as they see fit as long as they are able to do so safely, and make sure others around them are safe as well,” said David K. Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Last year, California saw more than 3,400 fatal collisions in 2017, according to the California Highway Patrol. Drivers aged 65 and older were involved in nearly 14 percent of those crashes. Nationwide, the number of people 65 and older killed in traffic crashes made up 18 percent of all traffic fatalities.

With increasing age come changes in physical, mental, and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s continued ability to drive safely. Family and friends play a major role in identifying changes in driving behavior and beginning discussions about older driver safety. It is important to start these conversations early and discuss any needed changes in driving habits before it becomes a problem, allowing older drivers to be actively involved in the planning.

Getting older does not necessarily mean a person’s driving days are over. But it’s important to plan ahead and take steps to ensure the safety of your loved ones on the road.

Bringing up the subject of their driving abilities can make some drivers defensive. Answering the following questions, courtesy of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, may help you decide if you need to initiate a conversation with an older driver about driving safely:

  • Getting lost on routes that should be familiar?
  • Noticing new dents or scratches to the vehicle?
  • Receiving a ticket for a driving violation?
  • Experiencing a near-miss or crash recently?
  • Being advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason?
  • Overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving?
  • Taking any medication that might affect driving safely?
  • Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?
  • Suffering from any illnesses that may affect driving skills?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might need to talk with your loved one about safe driving. Read this guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help you along the way.

Now, if you’re an older driver, you can also assess how changes can affect your driving. The following questions will help you decide if physical changes have affected your driving skills. Helpful tips about coping with these changes are also provided so that you can remain a safe driver for as long as possible.

  • How is your eyesight? Do you have trouble reading signs easily; recognizing someone you know from across the street; seeing street markings, other cars, and people walking, especially at dawn, dusk and at night; handling headlight glare at night? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Make sure you always wear your glasses and that the prescription is current. 2) Keep your windshield, mirrors and headlights clean. 3) Make sure that your headlights are working and aimed correctly. 4) Sit high enough in your seat so you can see the road at least 10 feet in front of your vehicle. 5) If you are 60 or older, see an eye doctor every year.
  • Do you have control of your vehicle? Do you have trouble looking over your shoulder to change lanes; moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; turning the steering wheel; walking less than a block a day; going up or down stairs because you have pain in your knees, legs or ankles? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Check with your doctor about physical therapy, medicine, stretching exercises, or a walking or fitness program. 2) Know that an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and other special equipment can make it easier for you to drive your vehicle and use the foot pedals.3) Reduce your driver’s side blind spot by moving your mirrors. 4) Watch for flashing lights of emergency vehicles. 5) Listen for sounds outside your vehicle.
  • Does driving make you feel nervous, scared or overwhelmed? Do you feel confused by traffic signs, and people and cars in traffic; take medicine that makes you sleepy; get dizzy, or have seizures or losses of consciousness; react slowly to normal driving situations? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Ask your doctor if your health or side effects from your medicine can affect your driving. 2) Take routes that you know. 3) Try to drive during the day (avoid rush hour). 4) Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you. 5) Always scan the road while you are driving so that you are ready for any problems and can plan your actions.
  • Are loved ones concerned? Sometimes other people notice things about your driving that you might have missed. Have people you know and trust said they were concerned about your driving? If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should 1) Talk with your doctor. Ask him or her to check the side effects of any medicines you are taking. 2) Think about taking a mature driving class. The AAA, AARP and driving schools offer these classes. 3) Try walking, carpooling, public transit, and other forms of transportation.

CHP also offers free, two-hour “Age Well, Drive Smart” courses throughout the year. Through this program, seniors can sharpen their driving skills, refresh their knowledge of the rules of the road, and learn how to adjust to typical age-related physical and mental changes.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a motor vehicle accident at the fault of someone else, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Older Driver Safety Awareness: Tips for the safest journey while behind the wheel

December 6, 2017 | 9:17 am


It’s a fact of life — we grow older every day. And with each year that passes comes changes in our physical, mental and sensory abilities that can be a challenge for some, especially our senior citizens.

The ability to drive safely can also be affected by changes in our physical, emotional, and cognitive health — changes that are a part of normal aging, but occur at different rates and times for people.

During “Older Driver Safety Awareness Week,” which is observed this year from Dec. 4–8, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to provide some tips and information to make driving as safe and enjoyable as possible for our older friends, neighbors and loved ones.

By 2025, a quarter of licensed drivers in the United States will be 65 or older, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Today, this age group accounts for about 20 percent, or 40 million, of all licensed drivers, according to Federal Highway Administration.

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week aims to raise awareness about the safety issues older drivers face while remaining active members of their communities. For many senior citizens, it’s important for them to remain active in the community — shopping, working or volunteering — while remaining confident that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.

During this time of year, families often come together for the holidays, and one of the first steps in addressing older driver safety is having a conversation with our loved ones. Consider sharing these seven suggestions for the safest journey (courtesy of DMV):

1) Your Health is No. 1

Schedule regular appointments with your physician to monitor pain or stiffness in your joints. This may affect your ability to control the steering wheel or turn to look into safety mirrors. Diabetes, seizures, and other conditions could affect your safety on the road. It’s best to discuss your driving options with your doctor before operating a vehicle. Fatigue can be a problem depending on the length of your trip. If your stress levels are high, driving could aggravate any other health conditions you may have. It’s best to speak with your doctor about lowering your stress levels before you drive, especially if you are at risk for any heart-related health conditions.

2) Schedule Hearing and Vision Tests

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, always have them while driving. Be aware of conditions that might be affecting your vision, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. If you feel like your vision is worsening, consult with your optometrist. Recognize signs of trouble seeing at night — you may need to stick with daytime driving only. If you have problems hearing other vehicles or emergency sirens when you drive, get a hearing aid. Keep the noise inside the vehicle to a minimum, and this includes music and conversations with your passengers.

3) Be Realistic About Your Limitations

It’s important to be aware of and honest about any limitations that you find yourself up against, so that you can be proactive about making the necessary adjustments to ensure your safety, and that of all other drivers around you. Some of these adjustments can include increasing your following distance to allow yourself more reaction time when it’s time to hit the brakes. Also, use the brakes early. When you first see that a stop sign, red light, or other obstacle is approaching, begin braking early. This will help you to avoid the need for a hard brake at the last minute. Avoid busy areas — when there’s a lot happening at once, your awareness of your surroundings will suffer. Try to find alternative routes with less traffic congestion. Lastly, try to anticipate rather than react. Scan as far down the road as possible. This will help you plan your course of action instead of having to react suddenly.

4) Check Your Medications

For each of the medications you have been prescribed, be sure to read the label carefully. If it states that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medication, do not drive. If there is nothing on the label, but you feel as though your mental or physical abilities are altered when taking the medication, contact your doctor and report the effects you’re feeling.

Also, ask the pharmacist about the medication when it’s prescribed. If the medication is known to affect driving ability, the pharmacist may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend a time of day when it’s best to take them. And avoid driving if you feel drowsy or lightheaded.

5) Adjust Your Driving Position

By adjusting the position of the driver’s seat, you can make it easier to reach the steering wheel, see your side mirrors, recognize obstacles down the road, control the vehicle, and reach the gas pedal and brake.

To help, keep the steering wheel at a comfortable but significant distance from your chest. If the steering wheel is too close, it could result in an injury should an airbag deploy. Raise the height of the seat so that your eyes are a few inches above the steering wheel. Do this by adjusting the steering wheel itself, adjusting the height of your seat, sitting on an additional seat cushion, if necessary, moving your side mirrors to avoid blind spots, or raising or lowering the headrest so that it is directly behind your head.  Consider a pedal extension if you have difficulty reaching the accelerator or brake.

6) Avoid Dangerous Conditions

Try to avoid inclement weather, night driving and rush hour commutes. It’s more difficult to control your vehicle, and your visibility is limited in bad weather. Additionally, dark surroundings give you less time to see, process, and react to your environment. Rush hour adds an increased number of cars on the road, coupled with impatient drivers, which can be one of the most dangerous times to drive for seniors.

7) Take a Mature Driver Course

Brushing up on your driving skills and refreshing your memory as it relates to the rules of the road can boost your confidence and help you stay safe while driving. Enroll in a senior driving course to learn defensive driving techniques, state-specific laws related to safety belts, cell phones, road signs, traffic violations, and making right-of-way decisions

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If you or someone you know is injured in a motor vehicle accident at the fault of someone else, contact the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit against Bakersfield convalescent hospital after patient’s fall, death

August 2, 2017 | 8:03 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility.

Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.

The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.

“The purpose of filing this lawsuit is to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring again in the future,” said attorney Neil K. Gehlawat. Chain | Cohn | Stiles announced the filing of the lawsuit during a press conference, streamed live by KERO-23, ABC. “Valley Convalescent and other skilled nursing facilities need to understand that if they drop the ball when it comes to patient safety, there will be consequences, and those consequences will be severe.”

Valley Convalescent Hospital has had a long history of complaints for elder abuse and neglect. Since 2012, the California Department of Public Health has recorded nine complaints of patients falling, and has taken action against the facility 15 times since 2006, according to reports. Valley Convalescent has been fined more than $160,000 since 2003. This year, it has received eight complaints, and the Department has found 28 deficiencies, reports show.

The family of Robert Hopkins hopes to prevent future similar incidents in Kern County. The Hopkins family is being represented by Neil K. Gehlawat and Felicia Schoepfer-Altmiller of Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

— By Michael Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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VALLEY CONVALESCENT FINES, PENALTIES COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE