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August 7, 2002 - Welcome settlement in nursing home abuse case

A recent $2 million legal settlement against a nursing home operator should send a clear message that protecting residents must become the top priority for all California nursing homes.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer says the case is about corporate accountability in the nursing home field. Certainly the elderly who live in nursing homes deserve care and attention, and operations that refuse to provide these basic services should be punished. Not only are neglectful practices criminal, they are morally reprehensible. In the case against Beverly Enterprises, two known deaths resulted from the company's neglect of patients. A 102-year-old woman had maggot-infested bedsores and an 86-year-old former fighter pilot died from an improperly inserted feeding tube. These atrocities are despicable.

But equally disturbing is that an employee, a nurse, committed suicide because she believed no one would listen to her story of the abuses that occurred in the Santa Barbara facility. Although the nurse's detailed journal, discovered after her death, ultimately aided the investigation, that she was driven to such extremes is a revolting comment about nursing home regulations.

While Lockyer hopes this settlement will spur other companies to change practices, such optimism does not go far enough. The state must protect whistleblowers and reassure them that their complaints will be thoroughly investigated. Hitting a corporation in the pocket is one way to regulate agencies. Encouraging employees to step forward when they see wrongdoing is another. Certainly, people who work with patients day in and day out know when change is needed and their efforts to protect the frail and elderly must be taken seriously.

This settlement is a welcome, but it alone will not end the long-established abuses that still occur in California's nursing homes. Lockyer must continue to aggressively pursue this and use every available means to ensure our society's elders are cared for and safe.

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